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Officials mull expanding use of credit cards

Niagara County legislators are considering a plan to expand the use of credit cards to pay taxes and fees at county offices.

County Clerk Wayne F. Jagow is enthusiastic about the idea.

County Treasurer David S. Broderick? Not so much.

The proposal was introduced into the Legislature last week by Peter E. Smolinski, R-North Tonawanda, and was referred to the Administration Committee, which meets Tuesday night.

It calls for a study by all county departments that collect public payments of how credit card use could be implemented or expanded.

Jagow said the county's Motor Vehicles offices have been accepting credit cards for more than two years, and for several months his office has offered the option of filing certain civil lawsuits electronically, with credit card payment of the filing fees.

But both of those programs were set up by state agencies and, in the case of legal filings, Niagara is operating a pilot program for the state Office of Court Administration.
Jagow said that means the state absorbs the fees collected by the credit card issuers.

That wouldn't be the case if Niagara County decided to accept credit cards for property taxes. The Legislature directed Broderick to look into that five years ago.

Broderick said he hasn't started taking charge cards because the county would have to absorb the fees, and he hasn't found any credit card processors whose fees are low enough to suit him.

He noted that the only taxes his office collects are delinquent ones. Most county taxes are paid to town tax collectors or city treasurers.

"I don't think the credit card companies will allow the county to charge the taxpayers a fee," Broderick said. "We have to collect the taxes in full."

That means the county couldn't deduct the fee of 3 percent to 5 percent from the tax payments, so the county would have to establish a budget line to pay the charge fees.

"That would be a fee that would be absorbed by everyone in the county, 90 percent of whom pay their taxes on time. I don't think that's fair," Broderick said.

Smolinski said if the county took credit cards, it might have fewer delinquent taxes to enforce and fewer people would run the risk of having their property foreclosed for nonpayment.

"You get a 30-day grace period [to pay the bill]. We don't have to chase them," he said. "These people would rather pay the interest and get their flight miles. To me, it's just catching up with the real world."

There is a convenience fee format, in which a third-party company could take the taxpayers' credit card payment, relay the full tax bill to the county and keep an added fee for itself, but Broderick said the company he focused on would add 5 percent to tax bills, which he finds too high.

Jagow said the various recording and filing fees his office charges for real estate and other transactions make credit card collections desirable.

"It would really simplify our operation," he said. "How we do things with cash is really archaic right now . . . The fee structure in the clerk's office is so bad, people come in with a blank check because they don't know what the fee is going to be."

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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