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Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

County considers outsourcing property tax bills

By Shelley Grieshop
CELINA - Mercer County Commissioners likely will outsource the county's real estate billing process at a savings of at least $3,000 per year.
County treasurer Dave Kaiser and information technologist Todd Highley on Tuesday were instructed by commissioners to draft a contract with SmartBill Ltd. of Newark that they'll review before granting final approval.
Kaiser and Highley met with commissioners Tuesday to explain the SmartBill process and costs. They said a contract must be penned by Oct. 1 if SmartBill is expected to handle the county's real estate bills in 2014.
"We've been thinking about doing this since 2009," said Highley, who believes the savings to the county will be higher than $3,000 per year.
It currently costs the county about $18,300 in labor, supplies, postage and printer costs to complete the billing process each year. He estimated SmartBill could perform the task for $15,130 per year, not including an initial, one-time set-up fee of $1,000.
The county processes and mails about 37,834 bills to real estate and mobile/manufactured home owners each year. Currently, the only out-sourcing cost is $280 to fold the bills; the remaining labor is performed in-house.
The men told commissioners that Kaiser's staff clocks about 140 hours prior to mailing out the tax bills twice each year. Highley said he spends about 44 hours of his time helping to facilitate the process.
Kaiser noted that SmartBill nets a cheaper bulk mailing rate (21 cents or less per piece) than the county (25 cents). The company also is allowed to mail approximately seven bills per envelope to residents with multiple properties; the county's maximum is three, he said.
Highley also informed commissioners the printer in the treasurer's office needs replaced.
"It is becoming increasingly unreliable and was never intended to produce 20,000 page bulk runs that the tax bills require," he said. "It has printed over 1.2 million pages in six years."
The cost of a new printer to handle the billing process is nearly $11,000, Highley said. If SmartBill is tapped, a smaller printer at a cost of $4,000 to $6,000 would be sufficient for the department's day-to-day use, he said.
SmartBill also offers other options such as online bill viewing and paying - extras the county might be interested in pursuing in the future, Kaiser said.
Highley said half the counties in Ohio contract with SmartBill for various billing purposes.
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