Residents may soon be able to pay their taxes simply by whipping out their Visa or MasterCard.
That’s because the town is moving toward a new system that would enable residents to use a credit card to pay their annual tax bills.
“This is a step forward for the tax office and one that has been wholeheartedly supported by our new tax collector, Jackie Orner,” said First Selectman Mary Ann Drayton-Rogers. “The basis for moving in this direction is two fold: convenience to the taxpayer and not having to handle as much cash in the tax office.”
Former disgraced , who served the town for 24 years in her elected post, stands accused of stealing more than $670,000 from municipal tax coffers over six years. She resigned in June and the town has filed a civil lawsuit against her in attempts to recoup some of the money she is alleged to have stolen. Guillet has not yet been charged criminally; state police officials say these types of cases could take up to five years to investigate.
Drayton-Rogers would not say whether the situation with Guillet played a role in the town moving toward a pay-by-credit card system.
“I believe it will give a certain amount of comfort and convenience to taxpayers who so choose to use this method of payment,” Drayton-Rogers said. “It’s my understanding that a trial period will be instituted before the system is totally up and running. The town is committed to doing everything possible to assist our taxpayers and to assure them that their tax money is protected and the integrity of the town stands behind our procedures.”
Municipal Finance Director Jim Hliva said the town has received bids from eight vendors vying to supply Oxford with the new service. Hliva said town officials are in the process of reviewing the bids and checking references, and will then select a company “after the town is certain that the company can supply the service, interface with our software vendor, and complies with all of our specifications.”
Drayton-Rogers said Hliva and Orner will make a recommendation to the Board of Selectmen, which will ultimately be responsible for hiring the company.
Orner said enabling residents to pay their tax bills via credit cards is something she has wanted to do since she came on board in July.
“Ever since I started here, the taxpayers have frequently been asking if they could pay by credit card,” she said. “Whether they’re looking for the convenience, or it just being a sign of the times that more people just scan through their exchanges, and then have a monthly bill to reconcile all their activities, it did seem as though this is the direction we as a town should be looking into.”
Orner further added that many people enjoy the “points or perks” from their credit card companies, or simply don‘t have the money available in their checkbooks when the tax bills come due.
“Whatever their reasons may be, many, many taxpayers are inquiring about when we will ‘get with the times’ and start accepting credit cards as a method of payment,” she said. “I would like to begin accepting credit card payments before the collection season begins in July 2011.”
Hliva said he, too, has wanted to institute credit card payments for a few years, especially with motor vehicle tax bills. But, he said, Guillet was against the idea.
He said delinquent motor vehicle taxes can be a vicious circle. For example, if someone does not pay taxes because he or she do not have the money, the town has an obligation under state law to report them to the state Department of Motor Vehicles. The taxpayer is then prevented from registering a car until the taxes are paid in full.
"The taxpayer needs their car to go to work and make money to pay the tax, but if they can not register their car, they can not drive and therefore can not get to work, " he said. "As a result they do not have the money to pay the tax. It could be a never ending circle. Using credit cards is being done as a service to our taxpayers allowing them an additional way to pay their obligation.”