As the recently retired tax administrator of the city of Bellefontaine, but most importantly as a citizen of the city of Bellefontaine, I am writing this letter in opposition of the city administration’s efforts to have the city income taxes collected by an outside source.
There are two agencies that they are looking into, including Regional Income Tax Agency and Central Collection Agency. While both of these agencies are collecting income taxes for multiple cities in Ohio, I do not feel that this is the best route for our city to be taking. In my opinion, losing control of the city’s tax collection would not be beneficial financially and good customer service for the citizens of Bellefontaine would be jeopardized.
In a recent article in the Bellefontaine Examiner, Service Safety Director Jim Holycross stated that the city would be paying approximately two percent to three percent of their gross income tax collections to an outside source for the service. The total receipts for 2014 were roughly $5.9 million, so even at a conservative 2.5 percent, there would be close to $150,000 flowing out of our local economy into someone else’s. The total budget for 2015 for the tax department minus the refund appropriations is $150,283 so it would be about the same, except that it is staying local. Even if an outside source is collecting the taxes, Mr. Holycross did state that there would be someone locally to assist taxpayers with any questions so that position would have to be budgeted for also in addition to what is paid to the agency.
Other reasons that they are considering outsourcing this service is because these agencies offer e-filing and they also have access to Federal IRS records so they can identify non-filers. The current tax software that the city is using has the ability to add e-filing and it has in fact been requested in the budget for several years and been denied. There is a one-time charge to implement it and then a yearly support fee. The city can also purchase a software update which allows limited access through CCA to compare city records to the IRS tapes. So both of these items can be taken care of locally through the current software.
Another concern for the city is that the state of Ohio has recently mandated many changes to local income tax ordinances to make them more uniform statewide. Some of these changes take effect in 2016 and some are phased in. The city has a law director to take care of these changes and make sure that they are compliant. All of these updates would be covered under the yearly support maintenance fees paid to the tax software company. In the past, they were always very efficient with their updates. Again, this can be taken care of locally.
In my opinion, there is no one anymore familiar with the city of Bellefontaine and what is taking place in the city than employees who live and work here. There are other cities in the state, Marysville being one of them, that have out-sourced their collections and because of public scrutiny or loss of revenues have reestablished their local tax offices. Has the administration talked to anyone who has done this to ask why and how much money was wasted in transactions? I do understand why small villages just implementing an income tax utilize these services. It is a way to collect income taxes without the overhead of a tax office but even citizens of the surrounding villages that use these agencies constantly call the Bellefontaine tax office for information because they can’t get through to the agency collecting their village tax.
If the tax collections are kept local, the administration certainly needs to make sure that the office is staffed and trained properly to continue to maintain the customer service that the citizens deserve. City income taxes make up roughly 70 percent of the general fund receipts so I feel tike this department should be taken seriously. During my 30 years of employment with the city, it was always stressed that we are there to serve the public and I feel that the customer service would be jeopardized if this takes place. I don’t know about you but I dislike very much to call somewhere for information and be prompted several times before I am finally put on hold or forced to leave a message This is what we have to look forward to.
Our administration wants us to “shop local” so why not keep tax collections and all city services local. I strongly urge you to contact your city council person (www.ci.bellefontaine.oh.us) and Mayor Ben Stahler and Service Safety Director Jim Holycross at (937) 592-4376 or (937) 592-6807 to voice your opposition to this change. This is tentatively on the council agenda on Tuesday, July 14.
Beth A. Christian