South Algonquin Township announced on its Facebook page that the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program for South Algonquin and the surrounding area will be available again this year for tax returns from 2020 and before. It is a collaboration between community organizations and the Canada Revenue Agency. Volunteer Sylvia Morten will be preparing residents’ tax returns free of charge during March and April. Due to COVID-19 drop offs and pickups will only be available at the Whitney Arena on Tuesdays and the Madawaska Hall on Thursdays. People are asked to call or email Morten to book an appointment.
The CVITP has been operating throughout Canada since 1971 and it helps individuals and families in need by preparing their income tax and benefit returns. It is a collaboration between the CRA and community organizations. Morten has been involved with the CVITP as a volunteer for the past six years. It is offered through a collaboration between community organizations and the Canada Revenue Agency. South Algonquin Township sponsors the clinic that Morten runs, and as such donates items such as paper, toner/ink, envelopes, etc., as well as locations to hold the clinics. The service is offered free of charge and gratuities for simple tax situations and people on a modest income (no more than $45,000 for an individual or couple, plus $2,500 for each dependant).
Morten began volunteering at the CVITP clinic in Barry’s Bay.
“When I moved to Madawaska, I set up a community clinic for South Algonquin and the surrounding areas, which I have been running since 2018,” she says.
Morten says she is both the coordinator and volunteer for the area. She says that if the number of clients ever became more than she can handle alone, she’ll try to find another volunteer to help out. Typically, she gets between 40 to 50 returns for the area per year.
Volunteers have experience in income tax returns as well as various accounting/bookkeeping backgrounds, according to Morten. They must apply each year with the CRA and the CRA runs a background check on each volunteer before approving their application or renewal for the program.
“When I saw the ad for volunteers in 2015, I was excited to get involved with the program. I have over 30 years experience in bookkeeping and income taxes, both personal and business. It is something I’ve always enjoyed doing. For me, being able to help people in the community is very rewarding and definitely worth the time,” she says.
Morten reveals that she had to stop working in 2013 due to a neck injury, surgery and subsequent nerve damage that affects her hands. Consequently, she was limited in the amount of time and the type of work she can do.
“With the clinic, I am able to pace myself, limiting the amount of time and number of returns I work on in any given day,” she says.
With COVID-19 and its restrictions this year, the clinic will only be accepting drop-offs and pick-ups of documents at the Madawaska Hall and the Whitney Arena during March and April.
“There will be COVID-19 protocols set up at each location, like disinfecting tables and counter tops, pens, etc. There will be spacing for drop-off and pick-up appointments to limit the number of clients in the building at a time. Clients will be required to wear a mask or face shield and use hand sanitizer on arrival. Something new offered by some clinics are virtual appointments. I am working on setting up virtual appointments for our area and hope to have them available soon,” she says.
According to Morten, there has only been positive feedback from the community.
“Income taxes can be very stressful for people, so they are very appreciative to have the clinics available. For clients on a fixed income, having a free service to have their returns filed electronically helps, as it’s hard enough to make ends meet as it is. It also saves them travel expenses if they have to go all the way to Pembrooke or Bancroft to get them done,” she says.
Charlene Alexander is the CEO and head librarian with the Whitney Public Library and the Madawaska Public Library in South Algonquin, and while she hasn’t used the CVITP herself, she does see the benefit for her community.
“If people had to travel to get help with their taxes, they would need to travel at least 45 minutes,” she says.
Luanne Hilderbrandt is an administrator for the Madawaska community bulletin board, and says she has heard great things about Morten.
“A friend of mine, Patrick Conway, said she helped him with his taxes, and he really liked her,” she says.
One last thing Morten recommends for everyone getting their taxes done is to access My Account online with the CRA and register with them.
“With it, they can access all their T4s, benefits, set up direct deposits, change address information, view current and past notice of assessment/reassessment, upload documents, see if their tax return has been processed and when their refund will be issued.”
People can get in touch with Morten by calling 613-412-9962, or by emailing email@example.com.
Michael Riley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Bancroft Times