By Kirsten Stanley

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 3, 2006

The Ironton Tribune

CHESAPEAKE — Tax season is usually a stressful time that can bring out the worst in some people.

But, you would never know that by visiting the Briggs Lawrence County Library in Chesapeake Wednesday morning. The smiling faces, friendly conversation and easy-going atmosphere could be perceived as a little bit unusual, but they are the norm for the AARP tax assistance program, according to the volunteers that oversee the program.

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Every Wednesday, the library hosts the program, which provides free tax assistance and filing of state and federal taxes to local residents. There are no age or income requirements and residents of local counties in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia are eligible.

“When we started out, I wanted to have a top-shelf program,” explained Emmerson Moore, an AARP volunteer who heads up the program with his wife, Kathy. “I wanted to provide the best service to the people who need it the most. It makes their life a little easier and it’s a way for us to give back to the community.”

Moore said preparation for the program begins as early as October. He and his wife attend IRS training and then pass that information along to the other volunteers during classes at Ohio University Southern.

He said those who come and get their taxes filed are usually fed up with paying high prices to get them done professionally. He said he “doesn’t knock” traditional tax preparers, but feels the AARP is the best option for some people.

“People can just walk in and it takes about 5 minutes or so,” Moore explained. “It’s very easy and usually we can

help most of those who come to us.”

There is usually a short wait to get taxes done at most sites, he said. In early February and in the closer it gets to the filing deadline, more and more people rush in and the wait may be a little longer.

So far, 1,100 people have had their taxes filed through AARP. Moore said he and his three other volunteers — his wife, Al Williams and Mac Davis — have collectively filed as many as 90 returns in one day.

“We don’t just do taxes, we educate people about a variety of things,” Moore said.

Williams said he has been blessed with good health and the ability to do taxes, which is why he has volunteered for the AARP for the past six years.

“It’s a great way to give back to the community,” he said.

Saul Thompson, 21, of South Point, was getting his taxes done because of the convenience. His grandmother also told him it would be a good idea, Thompson said with a laugh.

“I live close and I work all the time, so this is great for me,” said Thompson, who works as a salesman for Big Sandy Superstore in Portsmouth.

Wanda Duncan, a 65-year-old self-employed cleaning lady, said she is very thankful for the program. But, she just couldn’t believe that it is free.

“I’ve got to pay you something,” the Proctorville resident smiled and said to Moore. “I just feel like I owe you all something.”

Duncan has non-Hodgkins lymphoma and said she could simply not afford to pay the cost — $100 or more, she said

— to get her taxes prepared at other places. Especially since she owes the IRS money this year.

“This (free tax preparation) is really great. I just never knew it was here,” Duncan said.

Moore said the program was founded as a way to help low-income, elderly citizens or those with disabilities and if there is a waiting line at any of the sites, they take priority over others who simply need taxes prepared.