PORT RICHEY — Taxes just got a lot less taxing for the many Pasco County residents who qualify for free tax return help through the 2017 Prosperity Campaign led by United Way of Pasco.

Commissioner Mike Wells helped launch the annual campaign with United Way leaders and their partners in IRS, AARP Foundation and local financial institutions.

Many people might have been shut out from refunds because they could not afford to pay for a tax preparer, United Way of Pasco CEO and President Alice Delgardo said.

“We can’t thank you enough,” Delgardo told supporters.

“I’ve been in office the last two years and I’ve lived in Pasco County the last 37 years, so this county is near and dear to my heart,” Wells told the crowd at the kickoff event. He knew nothing about United Way’s 2-1-1 hotline and nearly nothing about the Prosperity Campaign until after he was elected, he said.

“I’ve seen it positively affect my family members on disability that had no idea they could use this service,” Wells said. They were getting help with tax returns at the Regency Park Branch Library.

“Some of these numbers are unbelievable,” Wells said, reading from a county proclamation about tax refund statistics for Pasco residents with low or moderate incomes.

Commissioners declared Jan. 27 Earned Income Tax Credit Awareness Day to urge people not to overlook the tax credit on federal forms.

“Many potentially eligible people miss this credit, which can increase their income by up to $6,242,” the county proclamation states. “Since its inception, the Prosperity Campaign has returned over $10 million in EITC refunds and $5 million in child tax credit refunds to Pasco residents.”

Last year’s Prosperity Campaign volunteers filled out more 8,000 tax returns for free for Pasco residents, saving them about $1.6 million in filing fees in 2016. The total refunds issued to residents came to slightly more than $8 million through EITC, child tax credits and education credits.

All tax returns are prepared by IRS-certified, highly-skilled volunteers. Each year the volunteers must pass the IRS exam to renew certifications.

Several volunteers helped fill out returns after the campaign kickoff, including preparers Leticia Beckner, Bill Exley and Erica Gifford.

For more information, go online to unitedwaypasco.org/campaign-2/prosperity-campaign.

To schedule a free tax preparation appointment at one of 10 sites across the county, call 2-1-1.