Time is running out.

If you have yet to file your federal income taxes, you have until Tuesday, April 17, to do so.

That’s according to Fort Lee Tax Assistance Center coordinator Margie Starks.

“Tax returns must be postmarked by midnight April 17,” she said. “Virginia state tax returns are due May1.”

To accommodate its customers, the Tax Assistance Center will remain open until May 1, said Starks.

“However, after April 17, the center will operate with a limited number of volunteers,” she said. “Customers should call [(804)734-5732] and schedule an appointment.”

Customers who need to file extension forms can pick them up at the Tax Assistance Center or download the form at www.irs.gov. In any case this form must be filed at the center or other tax preparer by Tuesday.

The Fort Lee Tax Assistance Center, wrapping up its 19th year of operation, had another productive tax season, said Starks.

“The Tax Assistance Center has processed over 5,000 federal and state returns, saving taxpayers over $700,000 in tax preparation fees and returning over $3.5 million dollars to taxpayers’ bank accounts,” she said.

The benefits the center provides for the Fort Lee community are largely due to the work of an experienced volunteer staff. This year, about 15 volunteers lent their tax preparation skills to the operation to include Barbara Geer, Walter M. Stith and Marianne Blythe.

Geer, who has been a tax volunteer since 1986, has volunteered her services at Fort Lee since 1989. She said she is challenged by getting customers as big a refund as she can, legally, of course.

“I like being a volunteer because it’s a great puzzle as to how much I can get back for people,” she said. “It’s payback for the good things I received over the years.

“Besides, what am I going to do, sit home?”

No way! Geer keeps busy with several activities to include volunteering for the Red Cross and the Thomas Palliative Care Unit at the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond.

The 77-year-old Stith is also a multi-volunteer. He is president of the neighborhood watch where he lives, secretary-treasurer of a non-profit community foundation and works with the Chesterfield County Community Development Department. But of all his volunteer efforts, the tax center is dearest to his heart.

“It’s my way of giving back,” he said. “I was helped while I was in the military and when I left the military. I enjoy helping others, particularly the military and their family members.”

To keep up with his busy schedule, Stith said he exercises.

“I workout almost every day,” he said.

Stith retired from the Army in 1970 after 22 years of service. The Korean and Vietnam wars veteran started at the tax center in 1993 after retiring from the civil service the year before.

Blythe, who dares not to disclose her age, has been a volunteer on Fort Lee since 1966 and a tax volunteer since 1981. The native of Germany said she never intended to do work for the tax center.

“I was conned into it,” she said. “They needed help with the telephone, but by tax time, I was helping to prepare taxes. It turned out that I enjoyed it.”

Blythe, who has volunteered for the Red Cross and Army Community Service, said she can’t do enough for the community.

“I’ve never worked at a job making money,” she said. “I’ve always enjoyed volunteer work.”

Starks, the tax center coordinator since 1989, isn’t a volunteer. But the Staff Judge Advocate paralegal was asked and did volunteer to extend her retirement to endure one last season at the tax center.

And she doesn’t regret it one bit.

“…I enjoy helping the Soldiers and Fort Lee Community,” she said. “Each year, I see repeat clients that have been clients for years and they are so appreciative that Fort Lee has such a program. I have received so many fulfillments in helping others and would readily encourage others to get involved in opportunities to assist others.”

For the last 19 years under Starks’ leadership, the tax center has made a measurable impact on the community’s quality of life.

“I estimate that we have assisted over 60,000 people since 1989 in tax preparation,” she said.

Starks is quick to point the tax center’s success in the direction of the 40 or so tax preparers who have volunteered their time over the years.

“I cannot sing enough praises about the Fort Lee volunteers,” she said. “Each year, they donate over 4,000 hours to the center’s operation. Fort Lee is fortunate because the majority of the volunteers are veteran tax preparers. They return each year with tax knowledge and expertise that far exceeds what is expected.”

Next year at this time, Starks won’t have to worry about anyone else’s tax return but her own. It has been an enriching experience, she said, but it is time to move on.

“My position as paralegal specialist in the Legal Assistance Division which includes coordinator of the Tax Center, has been great, but it’s time to close this chapter and open new chapter of different and new opportunities.”