Jefferson County aims to stop late fees for property taxes

PORT TOWNSEND — While the Jefferson County Treasurer’s office is encouraging property owners who can do so to pay their property taxes early to support services, county Treasurer Stacie Prada said she also is working on a program that forgives penalties and interest if taxes are paid late.

Property taxes for 2020 are still due on April 30, but due to the State of Emergency declared because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Prada was able to negotiate lowering the cost of paying property taxes online by electronic check (eCheck) from $2 to 50 cents, she said in a press release on Friday.

The 2.5 percent fee charged by the service provider for credit card payments remains unchanged, Prada said.

“I am sensitive to the needs of those financially impacted by COVID-19 pandemic and am providing an avenue for relief from the tax interest or penalties that they might otherwise face,” Prada said.

“Anyone who is able to pay all or part of their 2020 property taxes will help us provide essential services in response to COVID-19 and help offset the revenue we don’t receive from those who can’t pay right now,” she added.

Concerns had been raised by the public to county and Port Townsend city officials about the property tax payment, property value increases and the large amount of layoffs and furloughs caused by COVID-19 precautions.

“It’s a delicate balance trying to assist our property owners affected by this pandemic and ensure our local government operations have funding to continue serving our community,” Prada said.

“To help our affected taxpayers, we intend to forgive interest and penalties to those in need who complete and return an Emergency Affected Taxpayer Affidavit along with verification of hardship.”

Terms and finalization of the affidavit are being developed and will be available once determined. Prada estimates this will be done on or before April 10.

Jefferson County relies on local property taxes to fund such local services as those provided by the county public health department, the hospital district, the Sheriff’s Office and the fire districts, Prada said.

Prada is encouraging property owners to pay online to also protect the health and safety of her staff.

“For less than the price of a stamp, you can pay your property taxes online,” she said. “This facilitates payment and assists our department with property tax collection by reducing hands-on mail processing that does not allow for working remotely.

“I’m hopeful that some people will use the online payment by eCheck option this month rather than wait until April 30,” she continued.

“Mortgage companies collect property taxes for some taxpayers throughout the year. Once they’ve paid with funds already collected and held in escrow, it will be clearer what our potential gap might be.”

The amount of time the late penalties and interest will not be applied had not been established as of Friday.

Prada said that the local government will struggle to provide services through the end of the pandemic and end of the year, so paying for the year early — if possible —would help bridge the needs before state or federal assistance arrives.

“Mortgage companies collect property taxes for some taxpayers throughout the year. Once they’ve paid with funds already collected and held in escrow, it will be clearer what our potential gap might be.”

Online payments using credit cards or electronic checks may be made online at http://www.co.jefferson.wa.us/337/Online-Property-Tax-Assessment-Payments or by calling the Treasurer’s Office at 360-385-9150.

For more information, contact the Treasurer’s office at 360-385-9150.

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Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at [email protected].

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