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Technology has dramatically changed the way businesses conduct commerce. In Saline County, technology is changing the way residents handle their taxes as well.
During the 2013 legislative session, state Rep. Andy Mayberry, R-East End, co-sponsored House Bill 1023 that amended Arkansas Code Annotated 26-35-705 which requires county sheriffs or collectors to mail property tax statements to residents no later than July 1 of each year. After passage of the bill, officials were allowed to add electronic statements and notifications as well with the intention of streamlining the billing process and reducing the costs associated with mailing statements.
For Saline County Collector Joy Ballard, the opportunity to begin the move to digital notification was a chance to advance the collection process in the county.
As a result of her work, Saline County is one of only three in the state that have added digital notification, billing and payment as an alternative to paper.
After passage of House Bill 1023, Ballard said she began implementation of electronic notification "immediately. I called the Information Network of Arkansas and set up a meeting to discuss options."
Ballard had testified before legislators along with Mayberry and Pulaski County Treasurer/Collector Debra Buckner at the state Capitol when House Bill 1023 was passed. In his comments prior to a vote on the bill, Mayberry told his fellow legislators that they had "an opportunity to go back to your district and tell your constituents that, hey, I passed something today that made government a little bit better today."
The bill passed unanimously.
The question for Ballard became how to spread the news of the electronic option.
"I didnâ€™t want to spend tax dollars so we started a campaign in office to ask the taxpayers if they wanted electronic statements, had them fill out a form and sign it." she said.Â "I also had the information placed on the collectorâ€™s website with an encrypted electronic form for the taxpayer to fill out.
"I sent an email blast to 35,000 taxpayers near the end of 2012 year announcing the statement options.
Taxpayers have for years been able to pay taxes electronically, i.e. debit cards, credit cards and e-check, but the collectors were not allowed by law to send electronic statements."
The effort to get the word out appears to be successful. "Every day, we have signups, averaging five a day," she said.
Approximately 68,000 tax statements are mailed to Saline County residents from the collector's office each year. Since implementing the new system, 5,009 residents have requested electronic statements via email. Ballard said this has resulted in a savings to the county of $11,220 in paper and postage costs.
With the Oct. 15 tax payment deadline approaching, Ballard wants to encourage residents to make their payments, either in person or online.
"We can receive your payment without penalties until Oct. 15. The no-cost option to making your payment(s) is to mail us a check for the amount on your statement, or you may use our convenient online payment option. However the online option does charge a portal fee that will be added to your debit or credit card transaction.
"The collectorâ€™s office does not receive any portion of this fee and I encourage you to mail in your check before October to avoid any penalties or card fees," she added.
Signup for notifications and payment of taxes also can be completed with the use of a smartphone.
Payment of taxes made after Oct. 15 will incur a 10 percent penalty on the outstanding balance.
Ballard noted that three additional email messages to residents who have signed up for electronic notifications will be sent out in the coming weeks to reinforce the importance of the upcoming deadline in the hope of saving residents from penalty charges on late payments.
Since 2009 taxes collected through the Saline County office have grown from $57,270,073 to $70,577,565 in 2013. During the same period, collection of delinquent taxes has risen from $2,861,121 to $4,870,262 in 2013.
Ballard attributes the increase in collections to the hard work of the staff in her department.
Additional information about the system can be found at www.salinecollector.ar.gov.