Saluda considers having Polk collect city taxes

Published 10:00 pm Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The City of Saluda is considering having Polk County bill its property taxes.

Saluda City Council met Monday, March 9 and heard from Polk County Tax Administrator Melissa Bowlin regarding how the process would work.

The county has been billing the Town of Columbus’ taxes since 1999.

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The Town of Tryon bills its own taxes.

Bowlin said there is a 1.5 percent collection fee for the county to bill the taxes for Saluda. The advantage of allowing the county to do the service, she said, is it will save the city and taxpayers on employee time, billing and mailing.

“Because it costs a lot to print and costs a lot to mail,” Bowlin said.

Bowlin also reviewed costs of software necessary for Saluda to change from paper bills to computer generated. She said she spoke with the software company and it would cost the city a one-time $9,000 for the software, plus a $6,000 annual maintenance cost and $3,000 to train employees to use the system.

Bowlin said the county has the software already as well as the policies and procedures in place and the staff. Her staff, she said, maintains certificates and training and also have good public relations. If the county billed for Saluda, the county could maintain historical data from 2015 going forward. The county also begins taking tax payments on July 1 and Saluda does a month or two later, so Bowlin said Saluda would see those revenues begin to come in a month or two earlier.

Saluda’s total tax revenue this year billed was for $562,366, according to Bowlin so at a 100 percent collection rate that would mean a cost of $8,400 from Saluda to the county for the service. Bowlin said on average collections county-wide are between 92-93 percent and 96 percent for the Town of Columbus.

Commissioner Lynn Cass said with all the money it would cost the city for the software billing with the county is a bargain.

The city, Bowlin and residents had a lengthy discussion about the county’s two percent discount if taxes are paid in July and one percent if taxes are paid in August. There was some confusion as to whether that discount would apply to Saluda’s taxes for the taxpayer. It would only apply to the county’s portion of taxes, unless the city also approved giving a two-percent discount, or another amount on the city’s taxes.

Resident Karen Bultman asked if offering a discount could help the city get its tax collections sooner.

Bowlin said the county bills approximately $13 million per year in property taxes and by the end of July her office receives half of that total. She said her office gets more in August because of the one percent discount and the other heavy time is in December when taxpayers are trying to avoid the penalty.

Saluda Mayor Fred Baisden said the county billing the city’s taxes will make it more accurate. Cass said the audit trail is very important as well.

Attorney Bailey Nager said another important point is the county would handle all foreclosures and pursuing unpaid taxes. He said that would take off from his time the city owes.

Baisden expressed concern over Saluda taxpayers who pay in cash and come into city hall to do so.

Bowlin said they also see a lot of taxpayers pay in cash and she has three tellers at the office there at all times. She also said she is trying to get a drop box at the new office in Columbus so people can drop off payments when the office is not open at night and on the weekends.

Baisden reviewed what the software would cost and said that for a little over $8,000 the county can get the billing done and the county send the city the money.

“And you send the finance person a monthly report on the collections,” Baisden added.

Bowlin said she thinks it’s a good opportunity for both sides, including the citizens, the city and the county. Bowlin also clarified that the 1.5 percent cost to the city is on collections, not the billed amount.

Commissioners did not decide last week whether to contract with the county or if the city wants to offer its own discount on city taxes paid early. Bowlin said she could come back to the city’s next meeting and give an example of the Town of Columbus’ tax bill to show the discount.