Westford’s Hal Schreiber recognized for 20 years of service helping seniors file tax returns – Lowell Sun
WESTFORD — Residents may know Hal Schreiber as a former Select Board member, a position he held from 1991 to 2000. Some know he served on the Board of Assessors, too.
Those roles, however, barely scratch the surface of Schreiber’s commitment to public service in Westford.
Schreiber’s participation in town government, plus a 20-year track record of helping Westford seniors complete their tax returns as a volunteer, has earned him recognition from the state House of Representatives.
State Rep. Jim Arciero, D-Westford, with Schreiber’s wife, Lani, and Westford Council on Aging Director Jennifer Claro, surprised Schreiber with the honor last month at the Cameron Senior Center.
“Hal has been a committed member of the town of Westford for years, as his work to help others with their taxes during this unprecedented pandemic is invaluable and serves as a reminder of why it’s important to care for one’s community and help others,” Arciero said in a statement. “I appreciate, and will always recognize, Hal for his longtime commitment to Westford, his selflessness and his ability to help those in need.”
Arciero cited Schreiber’s recent efforts volunteering in town by measuring the water quality of local creeks, which Schreiber calls “a little funny side job.” Arciero called Schreiber “a quiet servant” and “a remarkable person,” and introduced a House resolution to mark Schreiber’s accomplishments and contributions to Westford.
Schreiber and his wife had lived in many states throughout his military career, but the pair ended up in Massachusetts, first at Hanscom Air Force base, and then in Westford. He described Westford as “like any other town, it has its ups and its downs, its good people and its not-so-good people. But, you know, I lived in New York and Ohio and Wyoming and my wife also lived in Texas, and we liked it here, and that’s why we stayed here,” he said.
Although Schreiber said he appreciated the clean, fresh air in Wyoming, he likes Westford partly for its relatively more temperate climate and appropriate cow-to-human ratio. In Wyoming, “you’ve got to hate people, love cows,” he said with a chuckle.
Once Schreiber moved to Westford while still in the active reserves, he dove head-first into bettering the town. In an interview, he rattled off a laundry list of his involvement in Westford, including serving on the former Capital Outlay Committee, the Finance Committee, the Board of Assessors and the Select Board. As a Select Board member, he was also president of the Middlesex County Selectmen’s Association for a few terms, and was a member of the Middlesex County Advisory Board. He was also treasurer of the Northeast Solid Waste Committee. “After I got tired of being a selectman,” he said, “I got involved in preparing tax returns.”
Schreiber majored in engineering and business management in college. After taking a state-mandated course and exam, which he retakes yearly, Schreiber began helping seniors at the Cameron Senior Center with their state and federal tax returns through an AARP program, and has been doing so for at least 20 years. Claro said Schreiber helped over 700 seniors this year alone.
“I find it quite rewarding, because a lot of these folks that I’m doing it for, they really have problems understanding how to do tax returns,” he said. “I find that even with paid preparers, I run into cases, especially with the Massachusetts return, where they made errors. And I could only go back three years to correct them, and got more money for the taxpayer.”
Schreiber said it’s difficult to keep up with the changing laws every year, so he spends hours studying for the annual exams. He even takes optional add-ons to the exams, allowing him to file taxes for U.S. citizens outside the United States, military and foreign students in the United States, and people filing in Puerto Rico.
“I must be the only (volunteer) in Massachusetts that took the test and passed it to do a Puerto Rican tax return. One person asked me, ‘Did you ever do a Puerto Rican tax return?’ I said, ‘No.’ ‘Why do you take the test?’ ‘For the heck of it,’” he said.
Sometimes his biggest challenge is getting seniors to admit they need the help.
“Most of them are very thankful that someone is able to help do the returns, and this is especially true of widows, they are totally lost because their husbands did it all,” he said. “With men, they’re very reluctant to say they no longer could do it, and then once they slowly come up to the senior center, and have me look over their return, then I do the return. And then at that point on, they come back every year, they just don’t want to admit that they can’t, the return’s become too complicated.
“I put a lot of time in. I don’t mind going to people’s homes, if necessary, calling them on the phone,” he said.
If he makes a mistake, he offers to pay the penalty. “If I’m doing their return, they at least should get the best I can give them. I’m not just shoving returns through like sacks of potatoes,” he said. “I take concern and pride in trying to do an accurate return and getting people what they’re due.”
Claro, the Westford Council on Aging director, said Schreiber visits homebound seniors and helps them with their returns if they need. She also emphasized his dedication to finding tax exemptions for these seniors, saving them money, and he allows these seniors to call him at home any time they have questions. She calls him “a godsend” and a “great public servant,” adding that he also sometimes helps non-senior low-income people with their taxes too.
“We see what he does year after year, and it’s not something I would volunteer to do, but it’s just a tremendous commitment that he did, and he just does it,” she said.
Schreiber says he was somewhat surprised to be recognized in this way. “I was very pleased, I feel happy that they thought highly of me to get to give me the award, but, you know, I don’t see where I’m doing something myself that’s so great,” he said. “But people looking at me see more than I see.”