FORT LEE, Va. – The Tax Assistance Center here is scheduled launch its 32nd season next month, albeit with a number of modifications geared toward better accommodating community members amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Capt. Zach Smith, facility officer in charge, said the TAC is set to begin operations Feb. 1 – later than usual to incorporate changes designed to keep staff and patrons safe while also improving efficiency.
“It goes without saying, this year is going to look different,” he acknowledged.
Among the changes visitors to the facility are likely to see include preparers wearing facemasks, the practice of social distancing and hand-sanitizing, and the presence of Plexiglas service area dividers throughout.
Most importantly, walk-in service has been eliminated, Smith pointed out.
“We’re asking that people don’t just show up to the tax center,” he said, “unless they’ve made an appointment by phone beforehand.”
Call 804-734-5732 to schedule service. Hours of operations are expected to be from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
The biggest change to this year’s TAC offering is the addition of virtual filing, Smith noted. This provides community members with the convenience of using the service without visiting the facility.
“We’re going to have an online portal where clients can log in and actually complete most of the preparation themselves,” he said, “but with the added benefit of having one of our certified tax preparers review the return and answer any questions they might have along the way. … We’re very excited about offering this online model that allows us to assist throughout the process and conduct the same review at the end just as we would with our traditional service.”
A drive-up, drop-off option also will be offered.
“Customers will call us and make an appointment, then we will verify their eligibility,” Smith explained. “They would then drive up to the tax center, and one of our personnel will come out and receive the paperwork. After the preparer has reviewed the documents and gotten the return ready, we will schedule a video call to finalize everything.”
Community members also will have the option of scanning and emailing support documents to preparers, Smith added.
Due to circumstances surrounding the pandemic, the TAC will be understaffed compared to last season. The roster of perennial volunteer tax preparers community members have come to trust over the years will not participate in the 2021 operation. Only a handful of trained borrowed military manpower assets are on tap to prepare returns. Nevertheless, there will be no decrease in expectations, Smith emphasized.
“The fact we’re not doing walk-in appointments, and we have a little more scheduling flexibility with these electronic options, will be the difference. We expect to still offer a comparable level of service to previous years,” he said.
Active duty personnel are expected to be the dominant online service users, Smith predicted. Retirees may lean toward traditional appointments, but the added convenience could prompt them to change.
“My hope is that the drive-up, drop-off option will serve our retirees well because it doesn’t require them to do anything different with their documents,” he said. “It allows them the peace of mind they’re not coming in and sitting face-to-face with preparers for a long period of time, but they still get to talk to them virtually, face-to-face via video conference call.”
Smith said the changes were not arbitrary but warranted due to safety considerations.
“We think that circumstances necessitated some thinking and strategic planning, and we believe we’ve come up with some great options.”
The website and email addresses for Tax Assistance Center services are not yet available. Community members can follow the ArmyFortLee Facebook page to stay abreast of new information and changes.
As a reminder, the DOD website – www.militaryonesource.mil/financial-legal – also offers free online tax preparation services for community members. It will be available beginning Jan.19. For more information, visit the website or call 800-342-9647.
The Fort Lee Tax Assistance Center is located in building 5209, 910 20th Street, just off Shop Road and adjacent to the Army Women’s Museum.