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Pridgen touts use of auto-pay system by City Hall

Many people no longer write checks to pay their credit card bills, utility bills and other expenses.

Instead, they're enrolled in programs that see recurring costs automatically deducted from their bank accounts.

A Buffalo lawmaker thinks City Hall would increase the amount of on-time revenue it collects if people could pay property taxes, garbage user fees, water bills and other city charges via automated funds transfers.

"Every other place where we pay bills in 2011, we're able to do it automatically," said Ellicott Council Member Darius G. Pridgen. "I think it would save the city money."

Pridgen, a prominent East Side pastor who became a city lawmaker Jan. 1, is sponsoring a resolution that will be considered by the full Council at Tuesday's meeting. It would ask several city departments to weigh the feasibility of introducing an automated funds transfer program and report their findings to the Council.

City Treasurer Michael A. Seaman, whose department oversees the collection of all taxes and fees, said officials have been reviewing security and potential liability issues for several months. "It's a little bit more complicated than just having access to [bank account information]," Seaman said.

The city's computer system is capable of providing an auto-pay feature, Seaman said Friday. He planned to confer with city attorneys to determine whether there are lingering concerns that must be addressed. Seaman predicted that the city will likely begin to offer an auto-pay option at some juncture, but he wouldn't speculate on a timeline.

The city already allows people to pay property taxes and other city fees via the Internet. But Pridgen said allowing constituents to enroll in auto-pay programs would be even more convenient, while potentially saving people money.

"It is often difficult for many residents to remember the myriad due dates for their property taxes and various city debts," Pridgen said. "As a result, many residents pay a late surcharge to the city because they neglected to pay their debt on time."

Pridgen said legal and technological impediments that made such programs impractical in prior years are vanishing as the banking industry and computer technology continue to evolve. He added that other municipalities across the nation have been offering auto-pay options.

Under the program, the city would continue to mail out tax bills informing people of the amount that is due and the date the money would be withdrawn from their accounts.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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