VITA program helps Gulf, Franklin residents with $230,000 in tax returns

During their inaugural tax season in Gulf and Franklin counties, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program helped eligible taxpayers earn refunds totaling $229,399 at their Wewahitchka, Port St. Joe and Apalachicola locations.
The program had 15  volunteers, tax preparers and greeters, who volunteered a combined total of 760 hours on the 48 days they opperated the tax sites.
“We served taxpayers who lived in the towns of Port St. Joe, Wewahitchka and Apalachicola,” the organization said in a press release, “and even served some who came from as far away as Pensacola, Bristol, Youngstown and places in between.”
VITA sites offer free tax help to people who need assistance in preparing their own returns, including people who generally make less than $58,000, persons with disabilities and limited English-speaking taxpayers.
Joan Hill, who first had the idea to bring the program to the area, has been volunteering with VITA in other cities for more than five years.

“My sister lives here… and I thought ‘well gee, let me go spend some time over there with her this winter. I’ll just volunteer at a tax site there,’” she said. “And then I was like ‘oh, there is no tax site here.’ I guess I can see if I can get one started.”

The three public libraries in Gulf and Franklin counties volunteered to host the service, giving them a space to meet with locals and process tax returns.

Tax returns prepared and filed totaled 179 for 2021, 12 for 2020, 3 for 2019 and 2 for 2018, for a grand total of 196 tax returns.

Hill said she is happy with the first year’s totals and hopes to see the program grow in the future.

“Thank you again to all who were a part of this effort to bring free tax preparation and e-filing services to residents in Gulf and Franklin Counties,” she said in an email.

Meet the Editor

Wendy Weitzel, The Star’s digital editor, joined the news outlet in August 2021, as a reporter covering primarily Gulf County.

Prior to then, she interned for Oklahoma-based news wire service Gaylord News and for Oklahoma City-based online newspaper during her four years at the University of Oklahoma, from which she graduated in May with degrees in online journalism and political science.

While at OU, Weitzel was selected as Carnegie-Knight News21 Investigative Fellow among 30 top journalism students from around the country. She also was senior editor managing a 12-person newsroom in coordination with Oklahoma Watch, a non-profit news organization in eastern Oklahoma.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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