Monroe County treasurer: Property taxes getting paid at same pace as last year; emailed questions better, but don’t be afraid to call

It’s spring property tax season in the Hoosier state. Payments are due next Monday, May 11. But a COVID-19 health emergency order from Indiana governor Eric Holcomb means no penalties will be owed as long as the payment is postmarked by July 10.

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In this file photo, Monroe County’s treasurer, Jessica McClellan, auctions off property at the tax sale held Oct. 10, 2019 (Dave Askins/Square Beacon)

So even though the county courthouse is closed, and the treasurer’s office does not have to provide face-to-face counter service, the treasurer is extra busy.

“The phone never stops ringing,” Monroe County treasurer Jessica McClellan told The Square Beacon on Wednesday. She pegged the number of calls on a average day at around 140, not counting the calls that get routed to other phones at the courthouse.

Most local governmental finance departments are factoring in a delay in revenues due to the extended deadline. But according to McClellan, collections are coming in at about the same pace as last year.

“People are either very amazing or they just don’t know that the deadline has been extended,” she said.

The treasurer’s webpage urges taxpayers to pay by the due date even if the penalties are waived: “However, we are urging all taxpayers to pay their bills in a timely manner. Funds for property taxes help pay police, fire and other essential services that are still being performed.”

According to McClellan, among the most common questions people call about are:

My mortgage company pays my tax bill,  so why am I getting a bill? Answer: If your bill has an “IN ESCROW” watermark printed diagonally across the bill, that means your mortgage company is supposed to pay it. This is the first year such bills are being mailed out, McClellan said. It’s not due to a change in the law, just a new interpretation by the state’s department of local government finance (DLGF). Because the law says every taxpayer should receive a bill, it means every taxpayer should get a bill, McClellan said. “I think that’s great. I think everybody should get a bill, because then they know.”

How do I pay? Answer: Payments can be sent to this USPS mail address: PO Box 2028 Bloomington, IN 47402. The county’s website also has an online payment option.  A third option is a drop box located at the Charlotte Zietlow Justice Center. Or taxpayers can drop their payment off at First Financial Bank or Mechanics Federal Savings and Loan. The easiest way to find payment information, McClellan said, is to look at the back of the tax bill, where all the options are described.

Where’s my bill? Answer: Taxpayers who don’t think they have received their bill, can retrieve it online.  Or they can send an email message to Calling  (812) 349-2523 and leaving a detailed message is also an option.

McClellan said her office is getting 40 to 50 voicemails a day, and it’s more than the staff can keep up with, so they’re behind right now. Part of her request for patience from taxpayers includes the 60-day no-penalty extension until July 10: “Please don’t be afraid to leave a voicemail—you’re not bothering us and we will get back to you,” McClellan said.

The treasurer’s office is getting staffed with staggered shifts to maintain physical distancing for COVID-19. So those who are working from home are transcribing every voicemail into a spreadsheet. Those who come in to the courthouse are making calls back to taxpayers from the spreadsheet, McClellan said.

McClellan said she’s short-staff compared to most years, because she’s decided not to bring in temporary part-time workers to help out. That’s a decision that’s unrelated to the county’s hiring freeze—it applies to permanent full- and part-time workers.

McClellan said the decision against adding some temporary help was influenced by the age of the workers she typically taps. Because they’re older, they’re at higher risk for COVID-19. Neither she nor the usual group of temporary staff wanted to take the risk, McClellan said.

One part of the workload is lighter, McClellan pointed out. Because the courthouse is closed, there’s no in-person counter service. That means the need has shifted to the phones, because people are calling in at a much higher rate.

The calls that come in sometimes get routed to staff in other departments at the courthouse. So McClellan sent out an email to her courthouse colleagues on Tuesday that included some basic information points for them to convey to taxpayers. It also included an all-caps thank-you for helping to field the calls.

The penalty owed if a taxpayer misses the July 10 cutoff, but is otherwise completely up-to-date on their taxes, is 10 percent of the bill—unless it’s paid within the first 30 days of the missed deadline. In that first 30 days, the penalty is 5 percent, McClellan said.