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Accounting students from Lakeland College and Lakeshore Technical College helped local taxpayers collect more than $1.3 million in tax refunds this spring through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.
Lakeland and LTC students prepared more than 900 free returns for the local community from Jan. 29-April 14 at two sites - the Salvation Army in Sheboygan and on LTC's Cleveland campus.
In the seven years of the VITA program, more than $8.1 million in refunds have been returned to local taxpayers. "Most of this money is spent in our local communities, so this program has a dramatic positive impact on the Sheboygan and Manitowoc area economies," said Brett Killion, a member of Lakeland's accounting faculty.
Killion and Deborah Ryan of LTC managed the two sites. They were assisted by Bob Martin, a member of Lakeland's accounting faculty, and former Lakeland professor Rick Gaumer, along with other community volunteers with professional tax experience who ensured that each return was reviewed for accuracy prior to completion.
The VITA service is provided under special oversight of the IRS to encourage and enable lower-income (under $50,000) taxpayers to have access to free income tax return preparation and tax credits, including the Earned Income Credit and Wisconsin Homestead Credit.
There were approximately 50 volunteers involved in VITA this year, either directly preparing or e-filing returns or serving indirectly in various support roles. Students from the two institutions completed more than 2,000 hours of community service through VITA this year.
Schenck SC continued to sponsor the program by providing financial support for supplies and related costs. Considerable support was provided by Salvation Army staff in making their facility available. Lakeland and LTC shared costs of printing informational materials for taxpayers and providing other support materials.
"We hope to have the VITA sites open again next year to do free income tax preparation for the lower-income taxpayers of Sheboygan, Manitowoc and the surrounding communities," Ryan said. "These student volunteers appreciate the opportunity to serve the community while also getting practical and meaningful experience."
Last year, the VITA partnership received a Working Together award from the Sheboygan County Chamber of Commerce.