Waynesville councilmen vote to pay county 3 percent to collect city taxes
By: Darrell Todd Maurina
WAYNESVILLE, Mo. (June 17, 2010) — By a 5 to 1 vote, city council members decided Thursday night to pay County Collector Terri Mitchell a 3 percent fee for collecting the city’s property taxes along with county tax bills.
State law allows counties to collect for cities but historically that’s not often been done in Pulaski County. The county’s smallest city, Crocker, voted to do so with last year’s tax bills because the resignation of the Crocker staff member who had handled tax billing for many years caused city aldermen to believe the tax collection duties would be too difficult for a newly-hired employee.
Waynesville is much larger so staffing isn’t an issue, but the city has been plagued with problems caused by the lack of an enforcement mechanism that forces people to pay their city taxes. People can’t renew their vehicle licenses without a receipt showing they have paid their county property taxes and if they continue to refuse to pay their houses can be turned over by the county collector to be sold at auction, but that can’t happen with taxes collected by city collectors.
“We have felt for some time that we needed to do that, to allow that process to start with the city,” said Councilwoman Luge Hardman, who chairs the city’s finance committee.
However, Hardman said fellow Councilwoman Diana Stanford came to her committee and didn’t agree.
“We did have a good discussion about it. Ms. Stanford came and asked some questions but again our committee felt like this is something maybe that our city needs to do,” Hardman said. “The process we think is going to help the city by helping us with time and paperwork and mailing and not being able to collect personal tax. We think those are good reasons to do this.”
Stanford explained her reasons to the city council.
“I just think that it should be in-house,” Stanford said. “We’ve got the city collector. Are we going to do away with that position?”
Benefits include saving time by reassigning staff to other duties, according to Mayor Cliff Hammock.
“I think there is a lot of value added in this initiative whether we are coming to the city to pay our taxes or to the county,” Hammock said. “I think this will pay dividends to the city … There are arguments that can be made, I think, both ways on this, but I think in the end there can be a lot of value that could be added.”
Stanford didn’t agree, and said less-affluent people will be hurt.
“There are some people who can’t write a great big check all at one time,” Stanford said.
Councilman Mike France said changing the process to collection by the county could actually help people with limited income.
“I am very sympathetic to many of our fixed-income people and stuff like that and hopefully we can talk to the county to where we can get our bills out. We have had incidents where we’re not receiving our bill until after Thanksgiving and we’re getting them in the first part of December and that not only hurts fixed income people but it hurts families. When they are due December 31, there are a lot of things happening in December and also you’ve got a lot of people who are traveling in the late weeks of November. There are a lot of family expenses that take place, and then you put the taxes on that too,” France said. “If we can get those bills out earlier to where people can put some down in October, November and in the December time frame to help defray those expenses, I would sincerely appreciate that and hopefully we can emphasize that to the county that we really need them pushing. If they’re going to be collecting some money for doing this work, please do that too.”
France said the process should also help save money for the city by reducing uncollectible taxes.
“Since I’ve been on the council I’ve had to vote on writing off personal property taxes on two occasions,” France said. “When I go to get my license on my vehicle renewed, they always ask me, ‘Are my county taxes paid?’ Now, they’ll have to also be able to that they have paid their city personal property taxes. I just think — I’m hoping — that will offset.”
Stanford continued to object, arguing that the new rule would require people to drive to the county courthouse and have the difficulty of finding a place to park in order to pay their city taxes.
“I think they’ll have to go to the courthouse anyway regardless of whether or not we do this,” said City Administrator Bruce Harrill, noting that the county tax bill will still have to be paid.
Councilwoman Twyla Cordry said people should be able to plan in advance to pay their taxes.
“You know that your tax bill is due, it’s due by every Dec. 31,” Cordry said. “I just don’t see making an issue of a nonissue.”
“If it was all due last year and it was $780, you know it’s going to be at least $780 this next year, probably a little more, so you just plan on it,” Cordry said. “It doesn’t have to be paid until Dec. 31 …. But if you save your money on October, November, December and write one check, put it on a credit card, debit card, whatever you are doing, it just makes it easier for a lot of the people.”
Stanford repeated her concern that there’s no reason to pay the county collector to do the city collector’s work.
“We’re going to be paying the county to collect this because why? Don’t we want to save $1,000?” Stanford said.
“But we all can save time inside the office with staffing and everything else,” Cordry said. “It’s going to be at least a break-even and it probably overall will save us money in the long run, but that’s to be seen. If it doesn’t work, we can always go back.”
Stanford ended up being the only vote against the proposal; Hardman, Cordry, France, and councilmen Ed Conley and Perry Roberts all voted for it. Councilmen Butch O’Riley and Tim Mann were absent from the meeting.
In related actions:
• Hardman said the city may soon be able to “get into the 21st century” by making it possible for citizens to pay bills online with credit or debit cards, which will cost $4,500 for upgrades to the existing Summit software system.
• Hardman reported that the city’s financial picture appears sound.
“The budget seems to be doing well, tracking well, having maybe a little cash-flow issue but that’s because we have a lot of projects going on right now and hopefully that’s going to correct itself shortly,” Hardman said.
• Hardman said the city’s finance committee recommended that the city’s workman’s compensation insurance be changed to Missouri Rural Services since it will save about $5,000 for the same coverage, and that the city stay with the same auditor that the city has used for many years.