They help navigate complicated tax codes
Plenty of people would be happy to avoid doing their taxes every year, but Jim Peterson is a little different. He signs up to do extra.
For the past decade or so Peterson has volunteered with AARP's senior tax assistance program. Since February 8 he's spent each of his Monday mornings holed up in a room at the Rosemount Community Center from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. as seniors and low-income families lined up on chairs in the hallway, looking for someone who could help them make sense of tax forms.
Peterson is not an accountant by training -- he's an electrical engineer -- but he knew someone who was involved in the program and his friend talked him into volunteering. He's been coming back ever since, and now he is the local coordinator for tax assistance sites in Rosemount and Burnsville.
For four hours every Monday Peterson and three other volunteer tax preparers sit at the community center and answer questions about W-2s and deductions. They use a computer tax program to complete the forms, offer advice when they can and file returns electronically.
"It's fun," Peterson said. "If we didn't do it, these people would probably have to pay someone to do it."
Peterson enjoys meeting people and helping them through a a process many find confusing. He particularly enjoys it when he can tell someone they're getting a nice refund.
"Not too many people complain," he said.
The tax service is geared toward low-income individuals and social security recipients, but volunteers can handle a wide range of returns. They don't handle farm income, though, and they don't handle businesses. About 60 percent of the visitors are seniors, and most come back year after year.
The Rosemount Parks and Recreation Department has sponsored the tax assistance for at least as long as the community center has been around. The city advertises the program in its senior newsletter and provides the space, but otherwise it doesn't get involved.
Recreation supervisor Lacelle Cordes said it has been popular.
"I know it's busy every day," she said. "It's just convenient for citizens to come to Rosemount. They don't have to drive very far."