ColaDaily.com by Kelly Petty
Northeast Richland County soon could be home to a new tax office if County Council approves it in the 2014 budget.
County Treasurer David Adams envisions a full-service tax office that would serve residents in ZIP codes 29016, 29223 and 29229, who make up one-third of taxpayers who travel to the Hampton Street administration building each month to pay taxes.
“People have to deal with government — they don’t choose to — therefore, we should make it as easy as possible for them,” Adams said. “A full-service Northeast office, where our growth is happening, would meet those needs.”
Adams has been working on the project for the past three years and recently submitted a budget for the office to be considered by County Council. Adams said a county office in upper Richland would address two needs: it would cut the drive time for Northeast residents and decrease long lines at the Treasurer’s office downtown, and it would free up much needed parking spaces for residents who live downtown and need to do business at the county office.
“This is one of a number of projects council will consider, but I hope it is a priority because a new office would help everyone, not just the people in the Northeast. It would also become easier to find a parking space and conduct business at our downtown office for those who don’t live in the Northeast,” Adams said.
The new office also would respond to the growth of burgeoning communities north of Interstate 20. Adams said since he arrived several years ago, his office was collecting 407,000 tax bills a year. In recent years, that figure has increased to 500,000.
Data from the Treasurer’s Office shows about 51,322 taxpayers out of more than 154,000 who made payments downtown in 2013 were from Northeast neighborhoods. That was up from 2012, when the Hampton office served 50,750 individuals from those same areas.
Adams said the tax office most recently has had between 2,500 to 3,000 people come in at the end of the month to pay. Additionally, the average trip from the Northeast can last 25 minutes. The new county office could decrease those numbers, and would fall in line with other major cities like Charleston that offer more than one tax office.
“The business volume continues to grow,” said Adams.
Adams said the Treasurer’s budget currently sits at $1 million. He said the new office would add roughly $120,000 to the department’s budget, and likely would have four employees, including three to process payments and a supervisor to issue refunds and manage the office.
Adams said the office would not just be a facility for payments and bill drop off, but it also would handle building permits, issue business licenses and offer a place for tax bill adjustments by the county auditor.
Adams said the office would be positioned in one of the “hot spots” in the Northeast, which could be anywhere between Blythewood and Elgin. Other pockets of growth, including Hardscrabble Road near Two Notch Road and the Killian area, are potential places for the new location.
If County Council passes the capital projects budget with the new tax office included, the facility would be another department initiative designed to streamline the tax payment process and improve customer relations.
Those other programs have included online bill pay, NBSC bank drop-offs and QR codes on tax bills for smartphone payments.
“Our primary focus is to at least try to make the payment of taxes easier for folks,” Adams said. “We can’t tell them how much to pay, but we want to make it easier to make those tax obligations.”