Roanoke Has A New Way For Residents and Businesses To Pay Taxes Online. Here's What You Need To Know.
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Roanoke City has unveiled a new online tax portal that aims to make it easier for residents and businesses to pay bills.
Accessible at www.roanokevataxes.com, the system has been several years in the making and required an overhaul of city software, leading to a weeks-long closure in December across some city departments. The online portal went live Dec. 14.
The Rambler talked to those involved about what this means for taxpayers. Property owners recently received 2023 real estate assessments, which on average have increased significantly in value. The city mails those bills out late next month (they’re due April 5 and October 5) and business personal property taxes (due Feb. 15) and personal property tax bills (due May 31) aren’t far behind.
Roughly 40 percent of people still pay Roanoke City taxes by check, with the other 60 percent paying online, estimated city treasurer Evelyn Powers. For those who pay bills online, you will have to create an account through the new system, which aims for a more streamlined experience than its predecessors.
“This is a step forward that we're trying to take to make the process of paying taxes be a more convenient and less odious thing,” Ryan LaFountain, commissioner of the revenue, said.
What does this system do?
Residents can pay taxes on real estate, stormwater, solid waste, cars (personal property) and on miscellaneous invoices, such as for Freedom of Information Act requests. Businesses can pay taxes on licenses and personal property as well as trust taxes, which include food and beverage and transient occupancy taxes. Previously, the city had eight separate tax systems. That meant anytime a person wanted to see how much overall they owed, city staff would have to check each account. The intent of the new system is to streamline the process of paying taxes.
Taxpayers will still be sent bills by mail. Now taxpayers can create a “work list” in the system to compile every bill they owe to the city. You can also add your email address so the system will send you a notice when a new invoice is added.
What’s new for businesses?
Businesses can now file their taxes for licenses and trust taxes online. That ability wasn’t offered before. While business owners could fill out a PDF document and submit it via email for certain purposes, the new system is designed to avoid that clunky step.
What new payment options are there?
Residents can now pay taxes with a PayPal Credit account (formerly known as Bill Me Later). A PayPal Credit account containing more than $99 comes with six-months interest free, meaning taxpayers can have six months to pay back PayPal, versus paying a late fee to the city.
Currently, you cannot pay city taxes with Venmo or Cash App. Powers said the city gets a lot of requests to pay through Venmo and said the system may be able to add that ability in the future.
There is the same 2.5 percent charge for using a credit card online and a flat $4 fee for debit cards online.
There is a change to how electronic checks work. Previously, that method was free, but now it costs $1.50. But also previously, if somebody typed in the wrong bank account number on their e-Check, the city’s system did not tell them and people would get charged a $35 return check fee. Now, the system is able to tell if the account number was entered incorrectly and allow people to fix the mistake.
What’s new when it comes to late fees?
The system accommodates a relatively new late-fee schedule. Prior to July 2022, taxpayers faced an automatic 10 percent late penalty on real estate and other taxes. Now, there is a 2 percent late penalty up to 15 days after the tax due date. On the 16th day, the remaining 8 percent is added. Powers sought those changes in 2020 to align with the new system, and City Council adopted them that year. The changes did not go into effect until recently.
How’s it been going?
“We have had a few hiccups,” Powers said. Some taxpayers have expressed confusion about navigating the system, so the treasurer’s office released a demo video about the process. Staff has had to learn a new process that replaces 30 years of old routines. LaFountain said things on his end are “fairly smooth,” though some issues remain — such as the system making people “print stuff off when the intent was not to do that,” he said. “We're still feeling out bugs and working with the vendor to make sure that we're able to get the best results out of it that we can.”
Why’d it take so long?
In March of 2018, the city signed a contract with the tax software company PCI, based in the U.S. state of Georgia. Over the years, the company rebranded, changed hands and had turnover of major staff, Powers said. Then the pandemic slowed things down. The vendor had travel restrictions, city staff were out sick and both parties had to talk over Zoom on how to convert data from systems written by city IT staff no longer there. The company is now known as Sturgis Web Services.
While people can pay a car tax online, the city will eventually add an option to file online as well, such as adding a vehicle. City staff hope the system will become more user-friendly, accommodate the effects of new state tax laws and streamline business filings.
How much did the system cost the city?
The system across the treasurer and commissioner’s office cost a total of $60,000 to set up, according to Powers. The city also pays the vendor, Sturgis, an annual payment around $142,000 for ongoing support and maintenance.
Who should I contact if I need help or to give feedback?
For issues with paying online, you can email the treasurer’s office at email@example.com. They can also be reached in-person from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Noel C. Taylor Municipal Building (215 Church Ave. SW, Roanoke) and at (540) 853-2561.
For issues with business filings, the commissioner of the revenue’s office can be reached at (540) 853-2524. Questions about personal property taxes can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org, business license taxes to email@example.com and other local business taxes to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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