SARATOGA SPRINGS — The AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program started preparations for the upcoming tax season on Tuesday, with a training session at Empire State College.
The program, which operates at 16 sites across Saratoga, Warren and Washington counties, offers free tax preparation help.
District Coordinator Reimund Manneck said the program processed more than 3,400 tax returns last year, and the average income of those who used the program was $34,000.
"We do tax returns for high school kids and up," he said. "We don't discriminate based on age or income."
On Tuesday, 15 of the program's newest volunteers attended the training, which is a total of four sessions and includes an IRS certification test.
Manneck said that, throughout the three counties, there are more than 100 program volunteers, and that number has grown each year.
"We're increasing about 10 people each year, and last season, we had 92, which is the highest we've ever had," he said. "Some people want to give back to the community, and others just want something to do."
Before the start of Tuesday's training session, program leaders recognized volunteers who had five, 10, 15 and 20 years of service.
Saratoga Springs resident John Precheur was the only one recognized for 20 years with the program.
"It's an achievement," Manneck said of Precheur. "Someone like that has a wealth of experience, which is very useful for the group."
Precheur first got involved in the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program after moving to the area from Rome, New York.
"I was looking for something to do," he said.
Precheur has since become a local coordinator for the Saratoga Senior Center and Saratoga Public Library.
"I'll put out the sign-up sheet at the Senior Center during the first week of January, and by the second week of February, it's full," he said. "I'm doing seven appointments an hour during tax season."
Clifton Park Local Coordinator Ron Streeter, who has been a volunteer for 22 years, said the nationwide average income of AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program clients is $28,000.
"These are people who need the assistance," he said.
Precheur said that, as tax returns are increasingly filed electronically, the free preparation service is vital.
"Many of these people can't afford computers," he said.
Manneck said most of the 16 Tax-Aide sites will start offering the service on Feb. 1.
"We are third in the region, and we'd like to move up, but in order to expand, we have to have new volunteers," he said. "If we don't have the volunteers for it, we can't expand, so it's essential.
"We'd like to get up higher in the ranking, and that's what we're striving for."
For more information about the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program, visit aarp.org/money/taxes/aarp_taxaide.