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Property Taxes Cut Into Smaller Bites

Certain property owners whose tax payments come twice a year in big, hard-to-chew-chunks can now switch to a program that’ll cut up the overall bill in 12, easier-to-swallow bites.
County Supervisors recently gave the go-ahead to promote a pilot program for Los Osos residents who outright own their properties — with no mortgages on them — to sign up with “EasySmartPay” a private company that offers the payment plan for a fee.
Justin Cooley, with the County Auditor-Controller-Treasurer and Tax Collector’s Office explained that the service is like an “impound account” where someone’s finances are handled by a third party, who makes sure bills are paid and divides the overall property tax bill into 12 monthly payments instead a bi-annual bill.
He explained that his office gets a lot of requests to make monthly payments because sometimes it’s hard to come up with the larger, twice-a-year payments, especially for people on fixed incomes and, as in the case of Los Osos, have a big payment like the sewer costs added to their tax bills.
Cooley noted that this isn’t a “County Program” and is a private business arrangement between the company and the taxpayer. “Anyone can use this,” he said, “We’re just going to promote this in Los Osos” as a pilot program.
He said many Los Osos residents, because of the sewer bills, have asked to make monthly payments, and so they chose that community for the pilot program to actively market the service to the approximately 4,600 properties in the sewer assessment district. They plan to send out notices with property tax bills bringing the program to the attention of taxpayers.
“Many property owners have the option to pay their property taxes in monthly installments through escrow services provided by banks owning mortgages,” reads the report, “however, property owners who own their property outright do not have a similar option.” That’s because State Law calls for the biannual payments.
With a big bill like the sewer debt, which runs $1,084 a year for a single family home, that means coming up with $542 every 6 months just to cover the debt from the two government loans the County took out for the over $180 million project. Operation and maintenance costs go on top of that (about $44 a month for a SFR).
So if that homeowner were to switch to monthly payments, that would mean paying about $91 a month for that same $1,084, plus fees. No less money but perhaps easier to budget for.
The staff report defines the fees charged by EasySmartPay as 2.25% for payments made with credit/debit cards and 1.75% for electronic transfers. As a comparison, the County charges 2.39% for cards and 0% for electronic payments.
Cooley added that all the other payments that are attached to property taxes, like school bonds, fire service assessments and more, would be collected by EasySmartPay and not the County.
But just who is EasySmartPay and can they be trusted with making the tax payments, especially considering if payments are missed, and liens, foreclosures and confiscations could be the result?
EasySmartPay is a privately-held non-profit corporation that was formed through the California State Association of Counties or CSAC. It’s aim is “filling service gaps between government agencies and the public regarding taxes.” Going through EasySmartPay is completely voluntary, Cooley stressed.
“Most of EasySmartPay’s business owners,” reads the staff report, “serve on the board of the non-profit 501(c)4 corporation CSAC Finance Corporation [affiliated with the California State Association of Counties] and have considerable knowledge and expertise in public taxation.”
SLO County Auditor-Controller-Treasurer-Tax Collector Jim Erb also serves on the board of CSAC Finance Corporation, but according to the report, Erb has no financial interest in EasySmartPay.
Information on the program is available on the County’s website, see: www.slocounty.ca.gov and go to the Tax Collector-Auditor-Controller’s pages.

By Neil Farrell

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