The military tax-assistance center is now open at Naval Base Ventura County, Port Hueneme.
People who have used the center before will notice a lot of changes.
“It is way different,” said Kevin Carey, a Camarillo resident who volunteered at the center last year, helping active-duty military personnel and retirees prepare their state and federal income taxes for free.
First of all, the service is no longer free for everyone. People who earn more than $57,000 in adjusted gross income now pay on a sliding scale.
In addition, the program is now self-service. Roving volunteers can help answer questions, but they’re no longer available to sit down and, one-on-one, prepare the taxes for those who walk through the door.
Instead of being in a classroom with about 30 computers, the service is in a new location where six laptops are available.
And hours have been reduced.
The center opened Wednesday, Jan. 30, and while some didn’t mind the changes, others were shocked.
“We’ve had a wide variety of reactions today,” Carey said. “The young smart Sailors jump in and get it pretty fast. The older retired folks have had some challenges.”
Sal Gonzales, the legal assistance clerk at the Region Legal Service Office, Detachment Ventura, who has coordinated the tax center on base since 2002, said the reaction is understandable.
“Our full-service center was so successful,” he said. “But at the same time, it is important for people to know how to do their own taxes and to learn what everything stands for.”
New guidance came down in 2011 requiring that all base tax centers convert to self-service, Naval Base Ventura County obtained a waiver in 2012, but not this year.
The change means that for the first time in at least a decade, the center is no longer affiliated with Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA), a non-profit effort by the Internal Revenue Service to provide free tax preparation to low-income families. However, many of the volunteers who were trained through VITA and worked at the base center for many years have returned this year to serve as roving volunteers.
It took awhile for Jeannette Binion, a 76-year-old widow of an Air Force retiree, to understand the change. She walked into the center at 10:40 a.m. on its opening day and spotted the woman who has helped her with her taxes for the last five years, Cindy Begg of Oak View.
“Hers was the first tax return I ever did,” Begg said.
But this time, Begg had to show her how to fill out her own forms.
“It was terrible,” said Binion’s 75-year-old sister, Shirley McGlinchy. “We’re not computer literate. My sister doesn’t even have a computer at home. When they told her she had to get on a computer and do it herself, she started crying.”
Begg helped Binion calm down and slowly walked her through the process. Together, they finished her return at 2 p.m.
“Some people need help to take care of things like this, especially when you’ve lost your husband,” McGlinchy said.
Gonzales and Begg agreed the center’s clientele will probably be changing as the tax season progresses.
“The center will best serve people who can get on a computer and do the returns themselves with minimum help,” Begg said.
Gonzales added that people with complicated returns, who don’t have an email address or who want someone else to do their returns for them should find a VITA center off base or go to a tax preparation service — especially since the center has fewer computers available this year and shorter hours.
Amanda Shortridge, whose husband, Builder 3rd Class Brandon Shortridge is with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 5, found the center was perfect for her.
“It was super easy,” she said as she packed up her paperwork. “If I’d known it was going to be this easy I would have done it at home. But it’s nice to have people here to answer questions just in case.”
The tax center is in the 31st Seabee Readiness Center complex at Harris Street and 23rd Avenue, across from the credit union. It’s in Room D-104 of Building 103. Hours are 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to noon Saturday.
For information, call Gonzales at (805) 982-4548.