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Jefferson County towns expand electronic payment of taxes

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The number of Jefferson County municipalities accepting online payments of town and county taxes is increasing from two to eight this year. The towns of Alexandria, Brownville, Clayton, Hounsfield, Rodman and Watertown join Ellisburg and Champion in offering the service.

Residents may pay via links on the towns’ websites or on the Jefferson County home page.

Paul J. Warneck, director of real property tax services for the county, said the resource, which initially was offered in only two towns as part of a pilot program, was a great success in its first year.

For 2013, it was offered to all 22 towns in the county. While only six additional towns signed up, Mr. Warneck said he expects the service to be popular, and hopes to go from eight to 15 towns in 2014.

According to Mr. Warneck, the debate about offering an online payment system based on credit and debit cards and e-checks has been going on for several years, often concentrating on how to structure the convenience fees charged by the companies that provide the transaction service.

According to a press release from Real Property Tax Services, for a Visa debit card, there is a flat fee of $3.95. Residents also may pay with MasterCard, Visa or Discover credit cards for a fee of 2.45 percent. E-checks are accepted for a fee of $1.75. Payments are handled by Value Payment Systems.

The Jefferson County treasurer is offering a similar service through Systems East Inc., Cortland, for the payment of back taxes and other fees. For payment with a debit or credit card, a 2.85 percent convenience fee is assessed, plus a 28 cent fixed fee. E-checks are accepted for a fee of $2.50.

In the private sector, companies offering electronic payment typically absorb the cost of the transaction in order to stoke sales by offering a variety of payment methods. They are able to do this by spreading the cost over a large number of customers.

In the county’s case, where a smaller number of customers is involved, the taxpayer must pay the fee out of pocket to complete the transaction. It is called a “convenience fee,” whereby the user pays a small amount for the ease of paying online and avoiding a trip to the clerk’s office or the post office.

The service is expected to be particularly attractive to nonresident owners of property in waterfront towns such as Clayton and Alexandria, who no longer will have to go through the hassle of sending their payments by mail from far-off locations. It also is expected to be popular with residents of larger towns.

The convenience fee is less than the 3 percent fee charged by Real Property Tax Services for a plan that allows residents to pay their taxes in installments from Jan. 1 through March 15.

“This is about offering as many options to the taxpayer as possible,” Mr. Warneck said. “The less delinquencies there are at the end of the collection period, the better off the county is.”

According to Mr. Warneck, the use of electronic payment services is expected to proliferate throughout the county, with credit and debit cards eventually being accepted for tax maps and other ancillary services offered by county departments.

An ATM planned to be located in the building is expected to fill the gap where electronic payment methods are not accepted.

Property tax bills for the town and county levies will be in the mail on or before Tuesday.

They can be paid online at www.co.jefferson.ny.us. If residents experience problems with the service, they are asked to contact the office of Real Property Tax Services before reaching out to their town officials.

The city of Watertown will offer electronic payment of taxes, water and sewer bills and garbage collection bags by the end of January, according to City Comptroller James E. Mills.

The payments for the city also will be handled by Systems East at the same convenience fees as the county.

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