City offers bill payments through its Web site

Option promoted as way to avoid City Hall lines

February 08, 2002|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

City residents have a new way to pay their City Hall bills without waiting in line: They can go online instead.

The city has contracted with a private company to allow residents to pay parking fines, water bills, property taxes and other city bills through the city's Web site, www.baltimorecity.gov, or by telephone at 1-800-2PAY-TAX.

"Gone are the hours and hours of punishment you would have to endure waiting in line to pay your parking tickets," Mayor Martin O'Malley said yesterday at a news conference, during which one of his aides demonstrated the system by using his credit card to pay a $20 parking ticket online. The city doesn't pay anything for the service, but residents who use it pay a surcharge -- a "convenience fee" -- to the company, Connecticut-based Official Payments Corp.

The surcharge on a parking ticket of $25 or less is $1, but generally the fee ranges from 2.5 percent to more than 5 percent of the bill paid. Residents paying a water bill of less than $100, for example, would pay $3 more for using the online service; those paying a water bill of $100 to $199.99 would pay a $6 surcharge.

Official Payments Corp. has similar agreements with more than 1,000 government entities across the country, including the Internal Revenue Service, the state of Maryland and some Maryland counties. The system involves entering a name, address and credit card number in what the company says is a secure transaction.

City officials learned last year of Howard County's use of the service, and launched their version last month. The city has collected more than $35,000 in bills, and officials are hoping for much more participation with publicity.

"If 20 percent of our tax base uses this service, we will be ecstatic," said Louise G. Green, chief of the Bureau of Treasury Management.

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