As returns get more complicated, rural residents seek tax help

Posted: Sunday, April 15, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- You would think that someone who lives off the land for the most part would have a simple tax return.

But a paycheck is required to smooth out the edges of that rustic living. And many villagers have several part-time jobs, a Native corporation dividend and perhaps a small business, making that yearly tax paperwork complicated.

It's enough to send some Interior village residents searching for help from a professional tax preparer.

''I have clients I have never met,'' said Helen Brown, a Fairbanks tax preparer who says she has many Bush customers who rely on her expertise.

And they sometimes stick a relative's paperwork in along with theirs, asking her to do those returns, too.

Tax returns for Bush residents can be involved. Brown remembers one family with multiple jobs and a small business to make ends meet, not unusual for people who live in the state's economically depressed areas.

''They did not necessarily have something that could be confused with a large income,'' Brown said.

Alaska Natives may also have to deal with their corporate dividends. Doyon Ltd. dividend recipients will have to declare last year's dividend as income, which was $462 per 100 shares, said Robin Renfroe, Doyon vice president of administration.

The money was not taxable before last year, she said. The reason it is now is because of an amendment to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. The amendment said dividends to shareholders are not taxable as long as a corporation's total distribution since 1991 did not exceed the original dollar amount it received from Congress in 1971.

For Doyon that was $54.4 million, and that mark was reached in 1999, Renfroe said.

Richard Carroll II of Fort Yukon also uses a Fairbanks accountant to handle his taxes, which are complicated by his tourism business.

Carroll has a hard time sitting down to do paperwork in the summer because he averages an 18-hour work day taking groups out on the Yukon River and on guided village tours. He started taking tourists around northern community 17 years ago and now has joined with major visitor industry companies such as Princess Tours, Holland America and Westours.

''I'm wound up pretty tight in the summer,'' he said.

Next summer Carroll anticipates hiring employees, adding another twist to his taxes.

Other villagers rely on local help with taxes.

Robert Cleaver of Ruby has done his own taxes ever since he attended Haskell Junior College in Kansas. Now he does returns for a good portion of his friends and relatives.

He said he's lost count of the people he has helped this year, and with Tax Day approaching Monday, he's reached a cutoff point.

''I'm doing four more, and then I'm calling it quits,'' he said.

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(Distributed by The Associated Press)



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