New county treasurer explains property tax collection change
LISBON — When new County Treasurer Bryan Blakeman took office last September, he wanted to make some changes to improve the efficiency and technology used in the office.
One of his first changes, he admits threw some people off guard. The property tax collection date set in Columbiana County was later than the date set by Ohio Revised Code and the checks from the second half collection were still being processed when he took office on Sept.1. Blakeman said the later date was due to an extension for the collection date, which pushed it back for years by his predecessor, former Treasurer Linda Bolon.
While the state allows for the county treasurers to apply for extension anytime the collection date will go beyond Feb. 15 for the first half and Aug. 4 for the second half, Blakeman said he wanted to move the dates back where they should have been without the extension.
His efforts to do that with the first collection this year was met by a plethora of phone calls from people, who may not have been prepared or actually in the area to coincide with the new tax due date. Blakeman said there was no malicious intent in moving the date and he worked with many of the people who were thrown off by the change.
The second half taxes are scheduled to be due on July 29.
After that, Blakeman said there will be a longer lull before tax collections for the first half next year are due, but the schedule will be on course where it should be. He admits the first change was a rough one, but now it should still be about the same number of months between collections as people are used to for the collections.
The earlier dates should help the schools, towns and other entities, who rely on that tax money, to get it sooner.
He also has some new technology plans in mind to assist those paying their property taxes, including for those who travel south for the winter.
Currently, he said the county treasurer’s office spends $30,000 per year in postage. He has hopes of cutting that expense by 20 to 30 percent. By next year he wants to allow people to receive their tax bills electronically, instead of by mail, if they opt to do so. He has contracted with a software company, which would provide electronic delivery of the tax bills and allow for electronic payments.
Additionally, a kiosk has been ordered, which will allow county property owners to pay bills in the courthouse lobby as another option to waiting in the lines that form the last few days before taxes are due.
Some other changes Blakeman said he is proud of during his first nine months in office include:
— Acquiring a new .gov website domain for the treasurer’s office, which provides his office with better security and email addresses that reflect that the email is from the treasurer’s office and not the auditor’s office. The treasurer’s office is also on the main county network, which he said provides better security and on-site technical support.
— The processing of credit cards has been bid out for the county’s recorder, clerk of courts and treasurer’s office, which Blakeman said has expanded the capabilities of people to pay by credit cards.
— A laptop has been purchased and set up for off-site work, in case an employee needs to work from outside the courthouse, which happened when the pandemic pushed people to work from home.
–Blakeman said he changed the custodial banks of county funds from Huntington to U.S. Bank, which is saving the county tax payers about $20,000 annually in management fees.
— Employees in his office, most of whom he inherited from when Bolon was in charge, have elected to dissolve their union, Blakeman said.
— Additionally, he said he has worked to move currently unused American Rescue Plan Act money into short term higher yield investments, which allow for more interest to be earned. Blakeman also has been inviting Jim McCourt, the county’s investment advisor from Meeder Investment Management, to attend the quarterly meetings of the county’s investment advisory committee and explain the investment strategies to other members of the committee. The three county commissioners and the Clerk of Courts Anthony Datillio, are on the committee, along with Blakeman.
— Finally, Blakeman said he has been aggressively pursuing those with multi-year tax property delinquencies. There were 150 delinquent tax court cases filed in 2019 and 177 filed in 2020. There were 226 filed in 2021, some before and some after Blakeman took office on Sept. 1.≠≠