Missoula County eliminates user fees on credit card payments, for now

Missoula County on Thursday eliminated the user fees charged to citizens who pay for certain county services by credit card, including property taxes.

The waiver is set to expire on June 30, though it could be extended. Forgoing the fees will likely cost the county up to $45,000 in revenue, according to Andrew Czorney, the county’s chief financial officer.

“One way we looked at reducing costs and making government services more accessible was to eliminate the chargeback fees citizens were paying for either their property taxes, or any fees for services from the county of Missoula,” Czorney said. “We want to do this as a temporary program through June.”

The county initially applied the chargeback after absorbing more than $600,000 annually in credit card user fees. The result saw the county collecting less property tax revenue from those who paid by credit cards when compared to those paying by check.

Czorney said some large property owners were charging significant amounts to their card to collect vacation miles. Meanwhile, he said, the county was left to cover the fees, often at the expense of other citizens.

“We implemented the program a number of years ago because we were having an number of people come in and pay very large property tax bills with their credit cards – large landowners with $100,000-plus bills,” Czorney. “The cards provided vacation miles and other things and we were experiencing somewhere in excess of $600,000 a year in the county paying these fees for these credit card users to help them vacation.”

With the pandemic at hand, Missoula County negotiated a deal with its credit card processor to absorb fees on a maximum payment of $3,000. Czorney said that’s high enough to cover most second-half property taxes in Missoula County.

“Because of the virus and our shelter in place and all the other constraints, we’d like to encourage people to stay at home and be able to use their credit card to pay for property taxes,” Czorney said. “When you’re a retail business, you absorb those costs by putting them into the cost of the products you sell. But as a taxing jurisdiction, we have no alternative except to pay those fees.”

Commissioners approved the temporary waiver.

“I’m frequently asked what Missoula County is doing to help mitigate the impacts of COVID-19, and that includes financial impacts,” said Commissioner Dave Strohmaier. “This is a creative example of one of the things in our suite of tools we’re able to offer the citizens of Missoula County.”