Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Cash or Check, Please

by Pa Rock

Last year after I purchased my little Ozarks farm but was still living in Arizona, I received a bill from West Plains City Utilities that had been sent originally to the farm address and then forwarded by the Postal Service.    After the routing delays and God knows what else, I was now informed that I had two days to pay the bill or the utilities at my farm would be cut off - in mid-winter!  I immediately picked up the phone and called WPCU, hoping to quickly set the matter right.

But that plan was way too simple.

The nice lady who answered the phone back in West Plains informed me that they did not take credit card payments - and she seemed surprised that I would even ask.   And, yes, if payment was not received within forty-eight hours, they would send a warmly-wrapped employee out to shut off my power.  Happy holidays to you and yours!

My next move was to call my son and ask if he could help old dad out.  Nick paid the bill and I reimbursed him.  If I hadn't had a relative living in West Plains, I would have been up Stuff Creek.

(I have since learned from my pinochle group that there are quite a few people around town who resent not being able to pay their utility bills with plastic.  We may just have to organize!)

I was over that indignity until this week when I tried to pay my property taxes - again with a credit card, and again to no avail.  The McDonald County (Missouri) Collector told me that she would take a credit card, but would extract a three percent fee for doing so.  I own two properties in that county, and the penalty for using a perfectly legal credit card would have been exorbitant!  My next call was to the Howell (Howl) County Collector to pay the taxes on the farm.  He would not take a plastic payment under any circumstances.

I've spent a lifetime creating a good credit rating, a fact that obviously carries no weight with the local petty government functionaries.  Maybe they're all working toward the day when we pay our bills with gold that we buy off of the Fox News commercials!

Get with the 21st century, folks - or at least with the 20th.   Making the consumer's life easier might just make your lives easier also!


Xobekim said...

From their perspective, as weak as it is, a person using a credit card can renege on that debt causing the bill to revert to unpaid status. Doing so is a foolish course for the taxpayer because the tax lien eventually attaches to the property. Also it can get messy when the property transfers to an innocent purchaser for money in the interim. But those challenges can be overcome.

Seems like the real issues are twofold. First the Collector's Office does not want to spin its wheels tracking down reneged debt. Secondly they likewise don't want to pay the processing fee the bank charges for being allowed to process the plastic, which I surmise is the same for a debit card as for a credit card.

Fear not, Missouri State University has a crack Political Science Department with professors and students specializing in Public Administration. If the hue and cry is great enough these good academics might be able to craft a fair solution. Perhaps the account processing fee can be calculated and spread over all taxpayers, or perhaps the weight of business the county conducts can be used to leverage a much lower rate.

Or the taxpayer can go to the Collector's Office and, employing the doctrine of "perfect tender", remit the exact amount of the debt in pennies. This needs to take place in the presence of witnesses because when such payment is refused the debt is considered satisfied under the law.

Xobekim said...

Of course seek counsel, wise counsel, from a local attorney familiar with real estate law and debtor creditor law.