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So Far, So Good on the County’s Tax Due Date

by ARLnow.com October 5, 2011 at 3:43 pm 3,030 42 Comments

“Our tax party isn’t very popular any more,” Arlington County Treasurer Frank O’Leary said with a smile this afternoon, as residents trickled into the county government building in Courthouse (2100 Clarendon Blvd) to make last-minute tax payments. Thanks to a clockwork-like directing-and-collecting operation, some 25 county staffers strong, lines have remained relatively short on what is traditionally a very busy tax deadline day.

“A year ago, you would have had a sea of humanity here,” said O’Leary, who has served as Treasurer for 28 years. “So far, that’s not the case…. This is the lightest due date in my history.”

After handling about 1,600 in-person tax payments on Monday, and 1,800 payments on Tuesday, O’Leary guessed last night that his office would have to handle about 2,600 payments today. That, O’Leary says, now seems like an overestimation.

“The biggest story this year is there is no story,” he said. “We were surprised.”

“Ahh, it’s not like the old days,” one Treasurer’s office employee was overheard saying to a colleague.

O’Leary credited the work of employees from the Treasurers office and the Commissioner of Revenue’s office for keeping things moving. He also said that “alternative” payment methods he’s worked to put in place over the years — from online tax payments to instituting tax payments at banks — have also helped.

The biggest change from past years O’Leary has noticed is that immigrants — who make up the overwhelming majority of in-person taxpayers on the due date — aren’t here in the numbers of previous years.

Tax payment stations — including the usual Treasurers counter on the second floor and an “express” area set up on the first floor — will remain open until 5:00 tonight.

  • Laura

    People really wait this long to pay that tax? They sent that out in August, if I don’t pay it right away I’m going to lose the bill and never pay it. Now I just have to remember to put the decal on the car.

    • novasteve

      You like giving them interest free loans?

      • Laura

        For my $35 tax bill, I don’t mind.

  • Johnny Utah

    i paid my 1k personal property tax bill recently. Still bitter.

  • Alex

    The 2.5% “convenience fee” for paying over credit card is … not so convenient. The county actually had trouble processing our payment this year. We sent it in early, saw the check was deposited, but they sent us a reminder. When we followed up they claimed that it “went straight to the bank” and without an apology or any assurance that the issue would be resolved, directed us to call another hotline to try to see if the payment had been properly processed…

    • Sam

      The convenience fee is for the “convenience” of not having to pay in person and to ensure the County doesn’t have to pay merchant fees. That would be fairly expensive.

      • Alex

        i can certainly understand that they have to compensate for transaction fees, but 2.5% seems rather high for the volume they are processing. At any rate, one can pay by check or through a bank transfer without having to go in to the office in person — so it’s not all that much of an improvement for convenience (imho).

        • If they took payments online, they’d not have to hire someone to process them.

          • DoubleH

            Uh, they do accept payments online.

          • Without the 2.5% processing fee?

          • DoubleH

            I’m pretty sure as long as you have a checking account they will direct debit with no fee.

          • B

            Yes, I paid straight from my checking account. No fees.

          • Clarendon

            I had done mine through checking debit and its free, now I have all my County payments on auto-pay which is also free. In fact the only bill I don’t autopay is Verizon due to some previous bad experience with the bill.

          • CW

            Yes, this is true.

          • DoubleH

            I just checked:

            E-Check payments, also known as ACH Bank Debits, are free of charge. You will need your bank routing number and bank account number from a check or deposit slip.

            I think the County gives us plenty to complain about – like the riduculous $33 decal fee. But, I’ll tip my hat to Frank O’leary because he is one efficient tax collecting machine.

          • Good to know. I avoided because I figured I’d have the fee.

      • CW

        I don’t know a lot about merchant fees, but I’d figure there would be some provision exempting municipalities and governments from them. I guess that’s not the case. I would have liked to have paid by credit card too.

        • porkchop_milkshake

          That’s all down to the agreement between the payment gateway and the government. I’m not surprised the gateway doesn’t waive the fees. What would be in it for them? They still have to pay the acquirer and the association. The gateway could, of course, negotiate some kind of fixed price agreement with the government, but that would be an even worse deal for the taxpayers, as they’d have to over-charge to keep from taking a soaking on the fees to the acquirers and associations.

          It seems fairer (and cheaper) just to make those who want the additional convenience of using a card rather than an ACH transfer pay the gateway’s fees directly, like the county is currently doing.

          I am a little surprised that the county can get away with that, though; I thought it was a feature of most merchant agreements that you weren’t allowed to charge a different fee solely based on CC usage. Perhaps the county has managed to get that bit waived. Or perhaps they’re living in peril of having their merchant agreement revoked for this and it just hasn’t happened yet.

          • CW

            I know absolutely nothing about electronic payment methods from the merchant side, so this is informative. However, I don’t get this part; “I thought it was a feature of most merchant agreements that you weren’t allowed to charge a different fee solely based on CC usage.”

            Different from what? I thought the “merchant fees” that we were talking about were just for CC usage? Like, someone uses their CC at a merchant, and the merchant has to pay the CC company some fee? I don’t understand that bit.

          • porkchop_milkshake

            Sorry. That wasn’t clear. I was referring to the fee the county charges its customers.

            Every merchant agreement I’ve seen forbids policies like a 2.5% fee imposed only on customers who choose to use cards. I wonder whether the county has some special agreement that allows it, or whether they’re just living dangerously, one violation report away from losing their right to accept some or all of the cards:
            http://www.mastercard.us/support/merchant-violations.html

    • ArlingtonCountyTaxpayer

      the county is obligated by law to collect a set amount of tax. it cannot allow any of that to be paid to banks for merchant fees and credit card processing — if it did then it would not be collecting a uniform tax payment from each property owner.

      • CW

        If that’s in response to my comment, that makes sense. Guess I was surprised that merchant fees can be applied to governments at all.

  • delinquent

    Those envelopes sat and sat and sat and last night I had an “oh, snap” moment. Fortunately my husband was willing to take it to the government building this morning. Yes, should have paid it in August. Or September. I guess I’m so used to paying everything else online that I forgot about the envelopes.

    • delinquent

      Glad to know I’m not alone, I guess……

  • Hoyaboyd

    In all honesty, I am fine with paying my property tax on my car. I just have a real problem with the county charging 30 something dollars for a sticker. Talk about government waste, I cant imagine that it costs anywhere near 30 bucks for everything that goes into getting that sticker to me.

    • Alex

      Agreed. The decal price is pretty high.

    • It is just another tax, but not called one.

  • Michelle

    I just sold my car and the guy is picking it up tomorrow. Do I get a refund on my property taxes? I didn’t put the decal on it so can I return that for a refund?

    • V Dizzle

      Yes, it will be prorated…you’ll need the sticker remenants I believe.

  • ArlintonCountyTaxpayer

    Arlington County isn’t getting the tax payment out of my cold sweaty hands a second earlier than I can afford to give it to them.

    • Elizabeth

      Annnnd that is why I paid my bill yesterday, online. Why should I give them the interest on the money when I can have it?

      • The Economy

        What interest? Who pays that anymore?

  • OX4

    Whoops.

    • MyHood

      Right there with you. D’oh!

  • tommy from the hills

    State law allows the county to get out of the car sticker business completely and have the tax imposed with state vehicle registration.

    That would provide 100% compliance for Arlington registered vehicles. Out of state and non-Arlington cars that actually live here would still need to be collected manually but there appears to be little enforcement unless someone complains about a particular vehicle. My morning walks take me on the same routes and I see long term parking in Arlington all the time without any enforcement.

    • ArlingtonCountyTaxpayer

      Frank O’Leary should hire us morning walkers — I could write dozen a tickets everyday. Might impact my popularity among neighbors, but for a good reason.

    • porkchop_milkshake

      They actually actively enforce it. I got caught out 8 years ago when I bought a car from out of state and was tardy changing the plates over. (I was parking on the street at the time.)

      This very site actually ran a story about the enforcement efforts:
      http://www.arlnow.com/2011/03/04/tax-enforcers-on-the-prowl-for-sticker-less-cars/

      I suspect they keep the stickers because it’s easier to identify cars that might not be compliant. I’ve actually seen officers sitting on the on-ramp to 66 in the morning enforcing sticker compliance; it’d be much harder for them to flag potential violators if no one had stickers.

  • Stoneridge

    Interest-free loan to the county? Um, banks aren’t paying jack in interest so you’re not losing anything meaningful by paying early.

  • Ted Williams

    “The biggest change from past years O’Leary has noticed is that immigrants — who make up the overwhelming majority of in-person taxpayers on the due date — aren’t here in the numbers of previous years.”

    Um-hum…

    • To be clear, O’Leary said that immigrants are, increasingly, paying their bills earlier and in other ways.

      See: http://www.sungazette.net/arlington/news/treasurer-immigrants-are-taxpayers-on-par-with-everyone-else/article_ad278b78-f004-11e0-b270-001cc4c002e0.html

      • From the Sun Gazette article:

        “But because many immigrants do not have bank accounts, they tend to visit the county government’s headquarters in person as the deadline for personal-property taxes looms.”

        This is a tax they probably can’t avoid. I imagine immigrants coming in with a wad of cash and paying. But, you have to wonder if they don’t have a bank account then what are they hiding? Their income maybe? Cash buisinees? You have to wonder what other taxes they are avoiding by not having a bank account.

        Hopefully, the stated trend indicates more of them are getting legit. Yet, they should be investigated for past infractions.

        • Ted Williams

          +100

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