In this county, taxpayers already have payment options

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
How do you pay your real-estate and personal-property taxes-yearly, bi-annually or monthly?

Residents of Sedgwick County received news recently that they can pay their personal property taxes in monthly installments-as approved by their county commissioners on April 23.

A similar monthly payment program was adopted in February last year that allowed Sedgwick County residents to pay non-delinquent real-estate taxes on a monthly basis, according to a recent article in The Wichita Eagle.

But the monthly payment option is not new to Jeannine Bateman, Marion County treasurer, who said Marion County residents already have the option to pay their real-estate and personal-property taxes monthly.

“We do have a few people paying it that way,” Bateman said. “But most of what we have in Marion County are people paying (monthly) on delinquent (taxes) and trying to catch up.”

Every spring, county residents receive information that includes their current personal-property values and the appraised and assessed value of their real estate. In the fall, taxes for the year are figured on the assessed portion.

By Nov. 1, the county treasurer’s office begins to mail out two separate statements-one is the personal property tax due for the year and the other is the real-estate tax.

Bateman defined real-estate tax as a figure levied on property, land, buildings, houses and businesses.

The personal-property tax amount includes tax levied on items such as boats, business machinery, aircraft, snowmobiles, golf carts, trailers and mobile homes.

But if a county resident owns the land the mobile home sits on, the mobile home is considered real estate and taxed accordingly, Bateman said.

Of about 12,000 properties in the county, about 1,000 of those are owned by residents opting to pay their taxes through their mortgage lender-making a combined monthly payment on their home and/or property and their taxes.

But residents who opt not to pay their taxes through their mortgage-loan institution and those who have completed their mortgage payments are faced with a tax bill in the fall.

“A lot of people, they’ve never learned to save for that and when taxes come due, they’re surprised with this big bill,” Bateman said.

When that bill comes, tax payers can choose to pay the amount due in one lump sum or opt to pay one half by Dec. 20 and the final half of the payment by June 20.

“That (bill in the fall) covers Jan. 1 through Dec. 31 of the current year,” Bateman said.

“So you can pay the first half in the actual year, and then you have the option to pay the second half the following year.”

If the first half of the bill is paid in full, no interest is charged on the balance due in June.

“But if you don’t pay the first half, and you pay it all in June, there’s interest on the first half,” Bateman said.

The current rate of interest is 8 percent daily-simple interest that does not compound.

And if the final payment is not made by the June deadline, the tax is considered delinquent and interest is charged on the balance until paid in full.

Some taxpayers who are faced with delinquent tax bills can meet with the county treasurer’s office and work out a monthly payment plan.

After their delinquent taxes are paid in full, some of those people ask to set up the next year on a monthly pre-pay basis, Bateman said.

But it’s in the taxpayers best interest to meet with the county treasurer’s office before a new calendar year begins to set up the monthly payment schedule.

“We just do an estimate of what it would be,” Bateman said. “And when it’s time to apply the taxes, Frances Smalley, the deputy treasurer, does a real good job with that.”

Another monthly payment option for personal and real-estate taxes is to arrange for monthly deductions out of a paycheck.

County employees have the option to have a certain amount automatically deducted each month from their paychecks, and that money is kept in an employee tax-holding account at the treasurer’s office.

“We set that up mainly for the employees to see how it would work-paying monthly in advance-and it works very well,” Bateman said.

“And we think it would be really great for other agencies to do this.”

A third option, for those faced with their tax bill in the fall, is to set up a savings account or certificate-of-deposit with their bank, make estimated monthly deposits and pay their tax bill when it’s due.

This scenario allows them to earn interest on their money.

But why would taxpayers choose to make monthly payments when they could earn interest in a bank account?

A lot of people can’t do that, because they have trouble budgeting, Bateman said.

“If it’s already paid in, they can’t spend it. But if the money isn’t there, you’ll figure out how to do it some other way.”

When asked what the county does with the money sitting in an account set up on a monthly basis, Bateman said that interest earned goes back into the county general funds.

“Any interest earned that the county can use, it’s less that they have to use of your money paid in taxes,” Bateman said.

“We need a certain amount of money to operate, and any money we earn in interest-that’s less we have to levy for.”

Looking to the future, Bateman said the county is not set up for monthly automatic withdrawal from checking accounts because there hasn’t been any interest.

“It’s not done at this time because at this point there’s a charge for the county to do that,” Bateman said.

“I can’t justify that money, but if we have the interest, it would be a possibility.”

Bateman stressed the importance of keeping the lines of communication open between the taxpayer and the county treasurer’s office, regardless of the method of payment that resident chooses or the problems that occur.

“My taxes hurt, your taxes hurt, -any way we can help people, we try,” she said.

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