During the 2007 tax season, AARP Tax-Aide volunteers filed 125 tax returns in Ellis County.

In 2008, they hope to increase that number.

In order to assist more Ellis County residents, the AARP needs more volunteers.

“We just need people to help us meet the need,” said local coordinator Jim Garner. “I don’t see the need decreasing, I see the need increasing.”

Garner plans to have two sites running in 2008 — one in Ennis and one in Waxahachie — and hopes to have teams of six at each site. Although the sites won’t open for business until Feb. 1, 2008, Garner is working to gather his volunteers early.

The AARP Tax-Aide program provides the nation’s largest volunteer-run tax assistance and preparation service, which prepares tax returns and answers tax questions for free. The program is supported by the AARP Foundation and is offered in conjunction with the IRS.

Volunteers in Ellis County would be asked to dedicate about eight hours a week during the tax season, Feb. 1-April 15, to the Tax-Aide program. Along with the time spent during the season, the AARP provides training in January to prepare volunteers for the season.

“The training is a three- to five-day school, usually around the beginning of January,” Garner said. “They must pass a written, open-book test.”

Although Garner will accept volunteers of any age from any city, he understands that the Tax-Aide program will take up a large slot of time during the tax season.

“The people we need to volunteer probably need to be retired and computer literate,” Garner said. “I’ve been doing this several years and I find it to be a satisfying profession. It gives me a chance to give back. It helps and allows me to give back in ways I’d never be able to otherwise — that’s the kind of person we need.”

Between the 2006 and 2007 seasons, the AARP and IRS opted to transition to electronic filing, rather than the handwritten filing process the Tax-Aide volunteers used previously. Although the transition has slowed the process in the beginning, Garner believes using computer software to be more accurate. Also, those who filed electronically earlier this year will already be in the system for future filing.

“If you are computer literate, the tax software is very easy to learn,” Garner said. “I don’t know of anybody that will have a problem. Each individual will have some slight hang-up, but you just have to work with them until it becomes second nature. If they can do TurboTax, this should be a snap.”

Those interested in the volunteering opportunity do not need to be members of the AARP. The program offers the service to people of any age or income level, but focuses on providing complimentary assistance for low- to middle-income taxpayers and those 60 and older.

“We don’t limit anybody, but we primarily target those 60 and over. They don’t have to be a member of the AARP,” Garner said. “Most of them are just glad we’re there and that’s why we do it. We’re just trying to help the older folks for free — we don’t charge a dime.”

The Ennis site is scheduled for hours from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays and the Waxahachie site from noon-4 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays from Feb. 1-April 15.

Those interested in volunteering should call Garner at (972) 617-7434.

Garner is hoping that the 2008 season sees an increase from an average of four to five returns a day to 12 returns per day.

“If we can do that, we’ll be flying in high cotton,” Garner said.

E-mail Mandy at mandy.bourgeois@elliscountychronicle.com