County treasurer asks taxpayers to pay early if they can

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Because the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted certain taxpayers’ ability to pay for Jefferson County’s essential services, the county treasurer announced incentives for those who are able to pay what they owe ahead of schedule, and relief for those who are unable to pay in full or on time.

Jefferson County relies heavily on property taxes to fund local services, including essential services provided by the public health, hospital and fire districts and the Sheriff’s office. To encourage online payments and assist those affected by the state of emergency, treasurer Stacie Prada has negotiated a reduced service fee rate for payments made by eCheck, and is implementing a program to forgive penalties and interest for property owners experiencing financial hardship.

“I am sensitive to the needs of those financially impacted by COVID-19 pandemic and am providing an avenue for relief from the tax interest or penalties that they might otherwise face,” Prada said. “Anyone who is able to pay all or part of their 2020 property taxes will help us provide essential services in response to COVID-19 and help offset the revenue we don’t receive from those who can’t pay right now.”

The cost to taxpayers to pay property taxes online by eCheck is temporarily reduced from $2 to 50 cents during this crisis.

“For less than the price of a stamp, you can pay your property taxes online,” Prada said. “This facilitates payment and assists our department with property tax collection by reducing hands-on mail processing that does not allow for working remotely.”

Using her authority under state law, Prada is working to implement a program to forgive interest and penalties for those unable to pay by the due date, but she confirmed Jefferson County property taxes are still currently due by April 30.

“It’s a delicate balance trying to assist our property owners affected by this pandemic and ensure our local government operations have funding to continue serving our community,” Prada said. “To help our affected taxpayers, we intend to forgive interest and penalties to those in need who complete and return an Emergency Affected Taxpayer Affidavit along with verification of hardship.”

Prada noted the length of time to pay late without accruing interest and penalty has not yet been established.

“Our local governments will be hard-pressed to provide services through the end of this pandemic and the end of this year,” Prada said. “Paying your full year’s taxes in the first half will help bridge the gap before any state or federal assistance might arrive.”

For that reason, Prada hopes some county taxpayers will use the online payment by eCheck option this month, rather than waiting until April 30.

“Mortgage companies collect property taxes for some taxpayers throughout the year,” Prada said. “Once they’ve paid with funds already collected and held in escrow, it will be clearer what our potential gap might be.”

Terms and finalization of the affidavit are being developed and will be available once determined. Prada estimates this will be done on or before April 10.

Online payments using credit cards or electronic checks may be made online at co.jefferson.wa.us/337/Online-Property-Tax-Assessment-Payments or by calling the treasurer’s office at 360-385-9150. The 2.5% fee charged by the service provider for credit card payments remains unchanged.

In response to questions she received from the public, Prada explained in an email that the decision for any extension of the property tax due date is that of the county treasurer.

“The districts most impacted by any extension would be the city of Port Townsend and our numerous special-purpose taxing districts,” Prada said. “I have sought input from them to see if they would be able to weather an extension. I have not had any indication yet that they would be in favor of extending the due date for all property tax owners.”

Prada reported that King, Pierce, Snohomish and Thurston counties are among those that have announced, or will announce, they will extend the first-half 2020 property tax deadline to June 1.

“May 31 falls on the weekend, so extending to the last day in May would allow payment on June 1,” Prada said. “They are much larger counties with the potential to absorb the impact better. They also have many, many more parcels and taxpayers and are likely less able to process individual waivers.”

For comparison, in King County, Prada said 55% of the property taxes are paid by mortgage companies, whereas that percentage is approximately 23% in Jefferson County.

“To date, we have collected 10.42% of total levies and assessments,” Prada said. “We will do our best to assist those adversely impacted by the pandemic, but we can’t do it to a level that will harm our special-purpose tax districts and local services. It’s their money, not mine.”

For more information, call the treasurer’s office at 360-385-9150.

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