First Citizens National Bank: Good folks, good business

I’ve banked with First Citizens National Bank most of my life, starting with the savings account my grandfather established a couple days after I was born. Now that I’m a QuickBooks consultant, I get to see the wide range of products and services offered in the banking industry, and I can objectively evaluate the service and products that First Citizens offers. (I don’t hold any shares, although my parents do.)
First Citizens offers a small business account that has an $800 minimum balance; if you drop below that, you get charged $8 for the month. Everything else is FREE – ATM, debit, transfers, online banking, and most importantly, downloading transactions into QuickBooks and Quicken. There are banks that charge $16/mo just for the QuickBooks download access, which is absurd. These fees add up quickly – I encourage clients to switch from high-fee and megabanks to sensible independent community banks. In Tioga, Bradford & Potter counties, that means First Citizens; in Buffalo, First Niagara, Evans, and the assorted credit unions are all good bets, but each should be evaluated for best fit with a client’s needs.

First Citizens also keeps our money in our community. They don’t sell mortgages on the secondary market which means they haven’t been contributing to the housing meltdown. For such a small bank ($790M in assets as of Sept. 2010), they really do a great job. They’re rated the 11th best independent community bank in the United States by US Banker, and the second best bank in Pennsylvania. (PDF) It’s also wonderful to be able to walk in a branch and see the same faces (Margie, Beth, Dick, Paula…) or call the service line and talk to Linda each time. These folks are involved in our communities, not as a job, but because they are community members. Those connections support and enhance our communities, and enhance the loan-making process by including additional factors, not just impersonal credit scores. (At the same time, it means my mother’s maiden name is not a good security question like it is at a megabank!) So, don’t just buy local, bank local, too. Independent community banks and credit unions are committed to vibrant local communities.

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Buffalo News picks up my at-risk charities story

Nonprofits at high risk of losing tax status
Little-known form is due now, IRS says
By Jay Tokasz
Published: October 11, 2010, 10:30 PM
WNY nonprofits identified by IRS
Updated: October 12, 2010, 7:05 AM

More than 1,000 of the region’s tiniest nonprofit groups are at risk of losing their tax-exempt status if they miss a deadline this week for filing a tax form with the Internal Revenue Service.

Block clubs, youth football and baseball leagues and professional organizations are among the small groups that have yet to file with the IRS, as required by an obscure change in federal tax law in 2006.

Filling out the required Form 990-N — through an online “e-postcard” — is relatively simple and takes about 10 minutes, according to IRS officials. But many of the groups on the IRS list are still unaware of this mandate, part of the Pension Protection Act of 2006. The regulation was implemented to help the IRS keep track of tax-exempt groups and weed out organizations that no longer exist.

For years, nonprofit groups that received less than $25,000 in a given year were not required to make an annual filing with the IRS. Those groups with budgets of more than $25,000 have long had to file a Form 990 detailing their expenses and revenues. IRS officials say they have been trying to get the word out since the law went into effect four years ago. The agency sent a half-million letters to tax-exempt groups in 2006 and has followed up with notices, news releases and, most recently, letters to the editor in newspapers. “We have been doing massive outreaches,” said Dianne Besunder, IRS spokeswoman in New York City.

Still, tens of thousands of groups across the country have not responded, and many organizations said they were not aware of the new requirements. Heidi Jones, a small-business and nonprofit group consultant and University at Buffalo law student, said tax-exempt organizations often “are completely surprised that they have to do this.”

The Pension Act of 2006 states that any tax-exempt group failing to file for three consecutive years automatically loses its federal tax-exempt status. Groups that lose their tax-exempt status would be subject to federal taxes on any income they receive. And reapplying for exempt status would cost hundreds of dollars.

An initial deadline of May 17 was extended to Friday, Oct 15 and the IRS developed a one-time relief program to get at-risk groups in compliance with the new regulations. The agency posted a list of groups that were out of compliance in July. More than 21,000 groups statewide made the list. Stop the Violence Coalition was one of more than 1,100 groups in Western New York included on the IRS list. The group, which takes in less than $25,000 a year, has been around since 2004, but organizers said they were not contacted directly by the IRS. “We didn’t know the status had changed,” said Arlee Daniels, an organizer. “We found out through one of the agencies that helps us through the United Way. One of the things we heard is they [the IRS] won’t notify you.”

The community group, which works to confront city violence, recently filled out the form and should be in compliance, Daniels said. In Tonawanda, the Big Wheels Bicycle Club learned of the need to file through the grapevine, as well. An accountant who knows a member of the group asked about whether the issue had been. But when Evalyn Katz, the group’s treasurer, recently tried to complete Form 990-N online, it was unavailable, she said. The form could not be printed and mailed to the IRS, either, she said.

Claudia Lee, treasurer for the Martha Avenue Block Club, said she received a mailing recently from the IRS but had not paid much attention to it and was unsure of its significance. “I didn’t really understand what I had to do,” she said. “Since you brought it to my attention, I’ll go home and take a closer look at it.”
The block club has never taken in much money, other than some dues and discretionary funding from the Buffalo Common Council, Lee said.

Lewis James, a volunteer who handles the bills and other duties for the Buffalo Pregnancy Care Center on Main Street, said he was unaware of the change in the law. “I didn’t get any direct mailing from the IRS or anything like that,” he said. The center has been around since 1984 and has used the same mailing address, he said. Only a call from The Buffalo News alerted James to the pending deadline. “I just wouldn’t have known otherwise,” he said.

Some of the groups on the list are now defunct. The St. Augustine Center, for example, is included, even though the human service agency was shut down in 2006 after severe financial trouble.

The e-postcard, available by clicking on the IRS Web site,, will “weed out all the organizations that are on our rolls but no longer exist,” the IRS’ Besunder said.

The United Way of Buffalo & Erie County has linked up with students from the University at Buffalo Law School’s Clinical Legal Education program to offer free assistance to nonprofits with less than $25,000 of annual income. A session is being offered from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. today at the United Way offices, 742 Delaware Ave. “We really don’t want to see these groups lose their status,” Jones said. “These little organizations do a lot for our communities.”

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Also in Buffalo Business First
Friday, October 1, 2010
United Way, UB Law assist nonprofits
Business First of Buffalo – by Tracey Drury

With just weeks to go until a new federal deadline, the United Way of Buffalo & Erie County is partnering with the University at Buffalo School of Law to offer assistance to small nonprofit groups at risk of losing their tax-exempt status.

All nonprofit groups are required by Oct. 15 to file information with the Internal Revenue Service. In the past, small organizations with annual revenues under $25,000 were not required to file anything.

The change came with the Pension Protection Act of 2006, which required that all organizations except church groups were required to file an annual return beginning in 2007. Those that fail to file for three consecutive years would automatically lose federal tax-exempt status.
Compliance requirements vary based on the size of the organization. Some will only need to fill out a few lines of information through an e-postcard, while others will need to fill out multi-page forms.

The United Way and the law school will offer free assistance during a legal education program on Fri., Oct. 8 from 1-4 p.m. at 742 Delaware Ave. The program is designed for small groups with annual income of less than $25,000. For information, call Heidi Jones at (570) 638-2486.

As of June 30, there were about 1,400 nonprofits in the Buffalo region still listed on the IRS site for non-compliance. The list is available online at

All contents of this site © American City Business Journals Inc. All rights reserved.

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IRS to revoke tax-exempt status for thousands of charities


BUFFALO, Sept. 24 – Over 600 Buffalo-area charities are at risk of losing their tax-exempt status failing to file an annual information return with the Internal Revenue Service. A new law requires all tax-exempt organizations, even the smallest ones, to file the annual return.

The United Way of Buffalo & Erie County, in partnership with students from University at Buffalo Law School Clinical Legal Education, is offering free assistance to the smallest nonprofits on Friday, Oct. 8, 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the United Way, 742 Delaware Ave. For more information or to sign up for assistance, contact Heidi Jones, 570-638-2486.

Concerned community members can check the status of nonprofit organizations by visiting Community members can also help by telling local organizations about the list. The deadline for submitting the form is Oct. 15.

Any organization that does not file for three consecutive years automatically loses its federal tax exemption. Churches and some church-related organizations are among the few exceptions. The IRS has extended the deadline to Oct. 15 to help these valuable community organizations maintain their tax-exempt status.

The smallest organizations, with less than $25,000 annual receipts, should file an ePostcard, also known as form 990-N. The ePostcard asks only eight questions and is filled out and sent at Larger organizations eligible to file the 990-EZ must file their past due returns by Oct. 15 and pay a compliance fee.


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Hot Dog Eating Contest

Contact: Jill Nickerson
(570) 638-2005
toddleru [at]


Blossburg, Sept. 24 – Blossburg V.I.B.E. will host a hot dog eating contest at the Blossburg Fall Festival Sunday, Oct. 17. Registration begins at 1:00 p.m. with the contest starting at 1:30 p.m. at Riverside Plaza. A $5 registration fee includes a t-shirt and all the hot dogs a contestant can eat in five minutes. The winner will receive an award belt, the honor of being Blossburg’s Top Dog, and a chance to defend the title at the contest next year.

Bloss Holiday Market is donating hot dogs and buns. Shane Nickerson will provide bite-by-bite commentary for the audience. The competition is open to anyone age 16 or over.

Sponsored by Blossburg V.I.B.E., the Fall Festival will be held from noon to 5:00 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 17, at Riverside Plaza. The festival includes Keith Lindie’s special hay ride sponsored by William B. Wilson American Legion Post 572, food and craft vendors, local organizations, music, pumpkin painting, raffles, and more family fun.

Interested vendors and nonprofit organizations may visit for an application or contact Jackie Smith at 570-404-4632.

Created in 2004, Blossburg V.I.B.E. (Visions in Business & Entertainment) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that envisions, plans and implements projects to enhance the quality of life for those who live, work, play or attend school in Blossburg. Visit for more information.

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Love a Local Business: Intuit grants!

Intuit, the makers of QuickBooks and Quicken, is offering small business grants. Small business owners should sign up and then let their customers know to vote for them. Win a small business grant worth $30,000! Votes from business owners and their fans determine which businesses will win.
Visit to sign up!

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Visit my Infringement Festival site!

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Buffalo Infringement Festival 2010

I am very excited about a new project I’m working on: a photography exhibit for the Buffalo Infringement Festival.

What is the Infringement Festival?


Art Under the Radar

Every summer, the streets of the Allentown neighborhood of Buffalo,
NY come alive with scores of events by local and visiting theatre and dance companies, puppeteers, media artists, poets, comics, musicians, cabaret acts, digital designers, and miscellaneous insurrectionists. The annual Buffalo Infringement Festival provides artists and audiences of all backgrounds the chance to come together, take chances, push boundaries, and explore uncharted territory because exciting art can happen anywhere, anytime, without a blockbuster budget. (Or any budget at all, for that matter.)

What is my project?

A photography exhibit – my first! The exhibit, titled “Between” shows bits of my life living between Buffalo, N.Y., and Blossburg, Pa.



Opening event: On the Fringe: 464 Multimedia Extravaganza for IF ’10, Friday July 23, 6:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m.

464 Gallery on Amherst Street announces “On the Fringe” a multimedia celebration of the 2010 Infringement Festival with
local art, live music, outdoor djs and vjs and much more.464 will be featuring artwork from young artists; Maria Bonsignore, Andrea Brough, Melissa Campbell, Heidi I. Jones, Shasti Oleary Soudant, David Pierro with his Robot Art as well as retail and works from the Gallery’s
scores of member artists.

Live Performance schedule:

6:30-9:30: Buffalo Busker
7:45-9:00: Michael Sheffield and Three Degrees of Separation
9:00-11:30: PROJEX: Artist Keith Harrington performing under the alias PROJEX (also known as DJ Flip of the Fractal Project) will be transforming the exterior landscape of 464 into an audio visual urban installation utilizing multiple projections, sound and music. Utilizing a hybrid traditional DJ setup and computer, this audio visual mixologist will be taking you on a journey of site and sound beginning in experimental ambience and ending in a high energy indie-electro dance party.

After the opening, the exhibit will run every day July 23 – Aug. 1. Hours: Tues – Fri: 12-6 : Sat 11-6 : Sun 11-5.

Where: 464 Gallery, 464 Amherst St., Buffalo, NY (map)

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New resume, brochure

Here’s my current resume [pdf] – updated to include the successful “Save North Penn High School!” campaign.
And here’s my spiffy consulting brochure [pdf].
Contact info
heidi.i.jones @ < take out the spaces

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Save North Penn High School! and other projects…

I’ve been writing so much elsewhere that I’ve been neglecting this blog, mostly because I don’t think anyone reads it.
What I’ve been up to recently:

  • Save North Penn High School campaign. Southern Tioga School District administration is proposing to shut down North Penn, ship the kids in grades 9-12 to Liberty High School and Mansfield High School, and turn the elementary school into a kindergarten-through-eighth grade facility. Obviously, I’m opposed to this.
    • I did some research on effects of school consolidation/closing on students and communities and on the state regulations about school facilities construction. (The district administration is not providing the school board with sufficient information to make a huge, permanent decision like this.)
    • I created an ad for the Penny Saver (weekly classified ad rag based in Mansfield, Pa.). PDF here.
    • I created and update the FaceBook fan page “Save North Penn High School!.” I update the NPHS alumni myspace but I think the FB page is more valuable.
    • I created the specs for a letter-writing machine that my brother Josh implemented.
    • I helped Jill Nickerson write a speech and handout for the November school board meeting.
    • I helped Jill draft a letter for Blossburg Borough Council to send to the school board.
    • I wrote a letter to the editor of the Williamsport Sun Gazette in response to an article about the November school board meeting.
    • I wrote a letter for Blossburg Improvement Association to send to the school board. PDF here.
    • I’m learning more about hands-on community organizing. I need this book: Tools for Radical Democracy, if anyone would like to buy it for me. (To get supersaver shipping at Amazon, you could add in Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals).
    • I have two real clients through the University at Buffalo Law School Community Economic Development Clinic. I’m doing some nice stuff with them.
    • I’m treasurer of the Alternative Dispute Resolution group at UB Law. We host a mediation (negotiation, really) competition each year – it’s this Saturday. We also coordinate and subsidize a 30-hour basic mediation training in January, which I took last year.
    • I’m a facilitator with the Alternatives to Violence Project.
    • I’m still working with Westminster Economic Development Initiative, currently focusing on the West Side Bazaar, a retail incubator project. Bonnie Smith and I are also working on developing a relationship with a local credit union to create a microbusiness lending program using the Small Business Administration’s Micro-Loan Program. There’s a real need for microbusiness lending in Buffalo. The two current SBA lenders in Erie County are not currently lending anything.
    • I’m still working with Blossburg V.I.B.E. We should be publishing our annual newsletter/business directory/place mat soon.
    • I updated my resume to apply for an externship with the IRS. I have no expectation of getting the externship because they favor third-year students and only take three. Maybe next year after I’ve taken Taxation of Individual Income I and II, Exempt Organizations, State & Local Taxation…
    • I have a new logo/business cards and a gorgeous brochure. (Yes, I now desperately need to update this website. Maybe January.) Thanks, Krysta!

    • AND I’m still working with clients. I have a few in Buffalo and many in Blossburg. I’m scheduling stuff for January. If you need QuickBooks installation, setup or tutoring, let’s schedule it now!

      To comment or contact me, email me at heidi (at)

      One more link – Liz Berkowitz of Wild Asaph Outfitters keeps a blog about natural gas drilling issues. This is important stuff that’s going to affect Tioga County for a long time – probably as significantly as the coal mining era of the 1850s to 1980s.

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