story by Ryan Saylor
Sebastian County property owners are among the first in the state to be able to not only pay personal property taxes online, but also receive eStatements and receipts online, as well.
According to Sebastian County Treasurer-Collector Judith Miller, the county's new online system is part of a new $46,000 software package the county purchased from Little Rock-based TaxPro to comply with new state laws dictating municipal and county bookkeeping. The same software package, which went live for Sebastian County at the beginning of 2014, will also be used by Pulaski, Saline and White Counties, though Miller said she believed her office was the first in the state to offer all of the services online for property owners.
The upgrade allows property owners to get the information they need in a quick, timely manner.
"Before we even mail our statements out, these people will get an (e-mail) out from our company saying, 'Ok. This is your statement. Sign in and get it.'"
In order to receive eStatements, Miller said property owners would need to opt-in to the service through the Treasurer-Collector's office.
Even if property owners have not opted-in, Miller said property owners are still able to visit ArkansasTaxSearch.com/Sebastian.html in order to look up past receipts of tax payments or to find out how much is owed instead of calling the office.
Another website, SebastianCountyTax.org, allows property owners to pay their taxes online. The online payments not only provide a convenience to taxpayers, but also saves time and effort of the staff, according to Chief Deputy Collector Kathy Caperton.
"On the day of the deadline, we had to go in and manually enter all of those payments and balance it," she said recalling 2013's tax payment deadline in October. "It took two people a day and a half to do it, to make sure we balance. The way we can do it now — it's downloaded. We can do it in less than five minutes and it's balanced, which saves a lot of time."
Miller also said the amount of time saved with the new online system would allow her office to officially close the books and start pursuing delinquent taxes within days of the personal property tax deadline in October.
"I'd say by the 18th (of October), we normally have everything (done)."
Not only is the county saving money through the electronic bookkeeping done by the new software, but it is also able to seamlessly calculate taxes due by individuals and the site updates automatically once payments are made and clear the bank, removing any chances for human error.
And while the updated software, mandated by the state, came with a large price tag, becoming the state's first completely electronic treasurer-collector's office will allow the county to save money, assuming a large number of taxpayers choose to receive eStatements and conduct their business electronically.
According to Miller, for each piece of paper (i.e. statements, receipts, delinquency notices, etc.) her office sends out, her staff spends 56 cents. The cost includes envelopes, postage, and printing.
With 2,000 property owners already signed up for eStatements and an additional 8,710 property owners who paid their taxes online in 2013, the county has already saved an estimated $5,992. While the figure may seem small — only 13.03% of the overall cost of the new software package — Miller said it could grow to much greater savings should a larger fraction of the county's 94,000 personal property owners choose to go electronic this year and in the years to follow.
And for those early birds wanting to get an early start on their taxes, Caperton said statements for 2013 are already available thanks to the new system. Miller said the books are already open and her office is ready to accept payments, however they are made.
"We want people to really start to use this," she said.
Individuals wanting to opt-in can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.