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Sunday, January 8, 2012

Ohio income tax filers can donate to four causes; Ohio Historical Society is new choice

By Paula Schleis
Beacon Journal staff writer 

If you’re feeling a bit generous after you fill out your 2011 Ohio Income Tax Form, there are four causes hoping you’ll send a few overpaid tax dollars their way.
Each year, tens of thousands of Ohioans voluntarily redirect a portion of their tax refund to a special program by checking a box on their 1040.
This year, the list of options — the state calls them “check-offs” — has grown to four. The General Assembly approved for the Ohio Historical Society to join the longstanding wildlife and nature preserve offerings and a 7-year-old fund that helps injured veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.
The nonprofit has been lobbying to get on the form for more than five years, said Todd Kleismit, the society’s government relations director.
“We were persistent. There was a lot of support for this from other local history organizations and from legislators,” he said. “When the tax check-off legislation was put up for a vote in various House and Senate committees, it passed easily.”
One reason the idea was popular is because all of the money collected will be returned to local groups working to preserve history in their communities.
The details of a matching grant program will be released in the spring. The society is still drafting criteria, but it will address efforts around the state to restore historic sites, repair heritage objects or documents, and perhaps even help with archaeological digs.
“It’s a way we can help local communities do what’s important to them rather than us dictating it,” society spokeswoman Jane Mason said.
Given what other check-offs traditionally receive, officials have said the society can expect to collect $200,000 a year or more.
Here’s more about the other three options on the 2011 Ohio Income Tax Form:
Military injury relief
The Military Injury Relief Fund, administered by the Department of Job and Family Services, provides a one-time $500 grant to qualified military personnel who served in Iraq and Afghanistan in the past decade.
The fund was created by the General Assembly in 2005 with the intent of helping injured veterans make ends meet upon their return home.
Uses for the money have ranged from bridging the financial gap while waiting for the first disability check to helping a veteran’s family travel to visit them in a distant hospital, a Department of Job and Family Services report said.
In 2010, taxpayers donated $481,000 to the cause.
Nature preserves
Two programs operated by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources were the first check-offs added to the income tax form in 1983.
One of the programs, the Natural Areas and Preserves Fund, has received more than 2 million donations totaling $16 million in that 28-year span.
According to a department publication, state budget cuts over the past five years have “significantly reduced” the ability of ODNR to fight invasive species that are harming nature preserves. Tax dollar support was eliminated entirely last year, although the state agreed to restore $1.2 million a year beginning 2011.
The money collected is used to protect natural habitats, and today one-fourth of the program’s budget comes from the income tax contributions.
Donations have been used to acquire land for creating new nature preserves or expanding existing ones; provide public access to the parks; and contribute to research and special projects.
Endangered wildlife
The other check-off under ODNR’s watch is the Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Fund.
The program works to improve fish and wildlife resources and their habitats and promote their appreciation “by the people so that these resources continue to enhance the quality of life for all Ohioans,” a fund report said.
Over the past five years, annual check-off collections for this program have ranged between $303,000 and $358,000.
Since 1997, the fund has also received revenue from the sale of wildlife conservation license plates featuring the cardinal or the bald eagle.
But tax refund donations make up one-fifth of the program’s $1.5 million annual budget.
Among other things, the program monitors fragile local animal populations like black bear, bobcat, peregrine falcon and river otters as well as endangered species like Lake Erie Watersnake and fresh water mussels.
The fund also supports watershed restoration and dam removal projects aimed at improving water quality for wildlife.

I do like passing on good news. Paying taxes may very well be a necessary evil, which no one really and truly likes, but necessary in running the Government and Government Programs which are needed.
Life is more than just paying what one owes to the Government, there is also giving to those who have even less than you have and other causes which the Government can not always have a program to benefit, lest there is so great a need for revenue that all are taxed to the proverbial 'poor house'.
After all, there are still charities and other causes that need support to do their work.
Here's Hoping and Praying that all of us Ohioans remember to do our share come this tax season.