Scotland County taxpayers may soon have a credit option when paying their bill online, but officials say that convenience could come at a cost.
Meeting at 10 a.m. today to discuss the possibility of incorporating a “Bill Me Later” option into the county’s online payment system, the county policy committee will be faced with a decision that is not as simple as it may seem, according to County Manager Kevin Patterson.
“The ‘Bill Me Later’ service allows someone going online to pay their (taxes) to … enter into a credit arrangement with the ‘Bill Me Later’ company,” explained Patterson. “If they pay off their balance in six months, all of the interest is waived.
“But if they don’t or don’t make their regular monthly payment, they will be charged interest about like a high credit card.”
As described on the company’s website, “’Bill Me Later’ is a PayPal service that lets you buy now and pay later.” It is currently offered as a payment option by a number of companies, including the United States Postal Service and Walmart. The county already accepts payments via web-based payment processor PayPal.
With the “Bill Me Later” service, the county would receive taxpayer money in full and immediately and the taxpayer would owe no interest, provided they pay on time. If the customer fails to make a monthly payment to “Bill Me Later” or to pay off their balance within six months, Patterson said that interest would be applied at about 19 percent. Customers in that situation would not only be paying interest on their current balance, but they would also be paying the “deferred interest” accumulated on the original total, according to the company’s website.
Patterson said that he will offer a mixed opinion to the policy committee when the matter is discussed during today’s meeting.
“If we were just a business, I would have no issue whatsoever with doing this. It’s very similar to what furniture companies do, or Lowe’s – it’s just buying credit from someone else. But, as a county, we also need to look at and ask: ‘Is this going to be a situation where this will cause more financial hardship for our citizens? Will that outweigh the benefit?’”
According to Experian’s most recent data, North Carolina ranked near the bottom nationally in average credit score at 679.
The thought of potentially contributing to the debt of the county’s citizens is a serious consideration, said Policy Committee Chairwoman Carol McCall.
“It came up at our last meeting … and it sounds like it’s a good thing on the surface, but we want to make sure it’s the best thing for our citizens. There is no question it’s good for us. We would have our money, but we have a responsibility to people,” McCall said.
If the “Bill Me Later” option were to be added, McCall said that she would like to make certain that the terms of the credit arrangement are made clear.
“We want to make sure our citizens have a full understanding of the agreement and are not getting slapped with a 20 percent interest rate. It’s potentially good for the county and we will consider it seriously,” she said.
If the policy committee chooses to recommend the “Bill Me Later” option, it will be referred to the entire board for a vote at one of their future meetings.
The policy committee is also set to discuss how it collects past due bills for services like the EMS and the health department, McCall said.
The committee is currently working its way through a list of policy items presented by Patterson at the end of the last fiscal year.
In addition to billing policy, the committee will also address its evaluation process for both the county manager and for the board of commissioners, itself.
“We are beginning the process of putting in a really good manager evaluation form. We want to make sure we are using the right tool and that we are getting the best evaluation possible,” McCall said
Additionally, the board will be considering the institution of a system of self-evaluation for the commissioners – an idea that Patterson said he discovered at the North Carolina School of Government.
“One of the tools they mentioned was a self-evaluation for the commissioners. … This will be something new for us and we are just looking into it,” he said.
The policy committee will meet today at 10 a.m. in the county government building located at 507 West Covington Street in Laurinburg.