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Plastic to pay taxes?
Treasurer wants to follow similar system of making bail payments with credit

Friday, July 01, 2005
Daily Southtown
by Jonathan Lipman

Cook County residents this fall might be able to use a credit card to pay their property taxes.

The county's finance committee approved a measure Thursday that allows County Treasurer Maria Pappas to start negotiations with Government Payment Services to handle the transactions. Pappas' office wants a pilot program in place for residents when bills go out this fall.

GPS won a contract in May to run credit card services for bail payments at the county jail. Pappas' office wants to "piggy-back" on that program and is asking for the board's permission to negotiate a similar program with GPS, spokesman Bob Benjamin said. The full board will vote on the proposal at the July meeting.

"We just don't have enough time to issue (requests for proposals), get them back, review them and get anything up for the second installment (of tax bills)," Benjamin said.

Similar to the system set up for paying bail, the cost of processing a tax payment by credit card will be passed onto the taxpayer, not the county.

GPS charges bail customers an average of 8 percent above their bail costs, but Benjamin said the rates may be different for the treasurer's office.

Credit card payments would only be accepted over the phone, and separate payments would be required for each parcel's taxes, Benjamin said.

At the same time the treasurer's office negotiates with GPS, it will also seek proposals for a more comprehensive system that would allow credit-card payments at the treasurer's office and over the Internet, Benjamin said. The office hopes to have that system in place for bills next spring.

Commissioner Jerry Butler (D-Chicago) was the lone vote against the proposal. Butler opposed the measure that allowed credit cards for bail because he was afraid poor families would be stuck with high-interest debt. He said Thursday his reasons were similar this time.

"I have an aversion to credit," Butler said. "I think this can be a dangerous area for the taxpayers."

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