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How county governments collect property taxes at breakneck speed

County and local governments are collecting property taxes at unprecedented speeds.
Beaufort County, S.C., Treasurer Maria Walls (R). Photo credit: PayIt

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County and local governments are collecting property taxes at unprecedented speeds, delivering funding for schools, first responders and emergency services faster than ever before.

In a symposium held Wednesday by PayIt, a contractor that offers local governments a digital platform to accept online payments, elected officials from Missouri and South Carolina touted the financial benefits of quickly collecting tax dollars while simultaneously providing a smooth user experience to its citizens. 

The officials said they aim to offer best-in-class customer experiences in digital property tax collections, after transitioning government to fully-digitized collection systems.

“Our voters selected me to think of the problems tomorrow that might come up, and then solve them today,” said Maria Walls (R), the treasurer of Beaufort County, S.C.

Walls said government must work to adopt advances in technology, just like the private sector does. She worked to convince her constituents that upgrades to the treasurer’s office were worth the expense.

“Everybody wants something better — a better experience, better services, yes — but then when you ask them ‘do you want change?’ the dominant response is ‘no’,” Walls said. “I think that’s the challenge. It’s the ‘people upgrade’ — the adoption.”

Beaufort County adopted a new online platform, myBeaufortCounty, that provides residents the ability to pay taxes and interact with government in new ways.

“Before myBeaufortCounty, we didn’t have a great online payment option. It wasn’t user-friendly, and it was slow and antiquated. It didn’t entice a user to engage – in fact, it turned them off,” Walls said.

So, frustrated residents would end up coming into the county office with a paper check.

“But that all has a turnaround time. To process, deposit, clear the bank, and ultimately get into the county’s bank account,” Walls said. Her goal was to fund the county programs as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Walls made use of social media and local media channels to spread the word to the community before tax season arrived. She said revenue collection has sped up dramatically since Beaufort County adopted the PayIt payment system.

MyBeaufortCounty is our customers’ one-stop location to pay and handle all things property taxes,” said Walls.

Halfway across the country, Jackson County, Mo., collects more than $1.3 billion in taxes per year through digitized revenue collection platforms. Their system covers more than 80 taxing jurisdictions, including real property, individual property, and business property.

“In 2018, I knew it was a priority for me to improve our online offerings, even well before Covid,” said Whitney Miller, Jackson County’s Director of Collections.

The prior antiquated system offered no mobile-friendly option or ability to save data from year to year. Miller said she was most concerned about the security of taxpayers’ private data.

The county took just 90 days to implement the new system ahead of tax season.

“We chose to start when it was as close to perfect as we could get,” Miller said. “And then [we] used the user feedback to make further iterations.”

Like Walls, Miller found the largest challenge was getting buy-in from both her constituents and the county’s elected leadership.

“Change is hard for public officials, staff, and for taxpayers,” Miller said. “Even though [the old system] was terrible, it was what they knew.”

Miller held group and one-on-one trainings with officials and staff members. Then, she used Facebook Live to tutor residents on the new system.

“Selling the change to the public was one of our biggest goals,” Miller said. She added that PayIt was a tremendous help throughout the process, and continues to be invaluable.  

“Step one was creating a great product, and PayIt did that,” said Miller. “But step two is selling that product. So our goal has always been to make it user-friendly for folks and available to them.”