By Allison Morrissey
Last November, the citizens of La Plata County were asked to vote for or against a mill levy increase.
The levy lost by a few hundred votes. People I talked with had a number of questions about it, but there was one which hit home with me: "So, what are YOU doing to reduce unnecessary waste of taxpayer dollars?"
As the county treasurer, my primary concern is: how much does it cost to collect taxes due and make these funds available to provide services for citizens. Bankers, Wall Street analysts, and shareholders have long been interested in reducing expenses for these types of transactional costs. That being the case, there are ways to measure and minimize the cost of collecting money.
How much does it cost La Plata County to process a property tax check? About $6 per check. That is, if everything is correct: the check is dated prior to receipt (i.e. no post-dated checks), the check is signed, the check is written out in long hand (in banking terminology this is the "legal signature"), and the amount matches what our tax software says the taxpayer is supposed to pay (no partial payments). What happens if any of these things are wrong? Well, then we have to send it back to you with an explanation as to what needs to be corrected. Then you send it back to us. Now let's add a bunch of days to allow for the U.S. Postal Service to send your checks to and from Albuquerque a number of times! You get the picture; this is a lengthy, costly process - about $20 to $30 per incorrect check. And doesn't feel like good customer service either.
What's a county treasurer to do? Change the process! This year we have multiple new ways of processing tax payments - all of which cost far less money, and save La Plata County in unnecessary spending. But all require you to participate, and provide your tax payment to La Plata County in a different way. Here are the best ways, in order of cost reduction. Please remember that your account number (or "reference number") must be included in all of these methods to ensure your payment is credited accurately.
Using La Plata County's website: http://www.co.laplata.co.us/departments_officials/treasurer, pay by e-check. This is the cheapest way to pay! You save the cost of an envelope and a stamp. It will cost you only 18 cents for this convenience. From the taxpayers' perspective, this is a savings of $5.82 per check!
You can also pay by credit card via the county's website. There is a 2.19 percent convenience fee the credit card company takes. But this is lower than last year's fee of 2.5 percent.
A third way the treasurer's office is reducing this cost is by having tax payments sent directly to the County's bank for automated processing. Many other counties in Colorado already do this. This is similar to sending in your monthly credit card payment. The cost of this process is about $1 per check, saving the county $5 per transaction. And you have the added satisfaction of knowing that your check has cleared the bank the same day it was received.
So with 42,000 tax bills going out in late January, what would be the savings if everyone paid by e-check? Approximately $250,000. And what would be the savings if everyone mailed their checks to the bank's PO Box? Approximately $210,000. There are some other items that cause these figures not to be completely accurate - but you get the idea.
By the way, this 42,000 number does not include tax bills to oil and gas properties. We send those out using a high-tech solution: email and Excel spreadsheets, further reducing transaction costs. We hope to do more of this in coming years.
Here are important dates to remember: If you pay your taxes in half payments the deadlines are Feb. 29 and June 15 this year. If you pay your taxes in one lump sum, the deadline is May 2. If you have a mortgage, generally your mortgage company pays the property tax for you, but you will receive a tax statement for your records.
Here is my call to action for you: Please help us to reduce unnecessary government spending on the manual processing of checks by paying by e-check, credit card or sending your tax payment directly to our bank, at the PO Box listed on your tax statement.
Allison Morrissey is La Plata County Treasurer. She can be reached at 382-6350 or Allison.Morrissey@co.laplata.co.us.