VOL. 7 | NO. 15 | Saturday, April 5, 2014
Trustee’s Texts Reaching Tardy Taxpayers
By Amos Maki
Shelby County Trustee David Lenoir and his staff are now using text messages and emails to contact delinquent taxpayers, part of a new focus on technology that, so far, has been successful.
Shelby County Trustee David Lenoir has found a new way to reach out and touch someone – specifically, tardy taxpayers.
In March, the trustee’s office, which bills $800 million annually in taxes, began sending text messages and emails to individuals who were late on their property taxes.
“People are moving away from land lines and to cell phones and a lot of times the number they provide us with is that cell phone,” Lenoir said.
The short text message was sent to 9,383 distinct taxpayer cell phone numbers and 5,805 email addresses starting in early March. This first round of text messages and emails focused on those whose 2013 property taxes became delinquent March 1. The text messages and emails include a link to the trustee’s website, where property owners can find detailed information on how to pay their taxes.
“We try to make it as user-friendly as possible and knock down as many hurdles as we can identify,” Lenoir said.
Approximately $315,000 was collected from 277 taxpayers who received the text messages and another $471,000 was paid by those receiving the email notice.
Lenoir said this first effort to collect delinquent property taxes using electronic notifications versus paper notices exceeded expectations and will be continued and expanded going forward.
“Right now we’re working out what worked and didn’t work,” Lenoir said. “We rolled out this email campaign and text message campaign targeted at delinquent taxpayers to work out the process. Once you fine-tune in you can refine and take it to the next level.”
Lenoir said the use of technology like emails and text messages can be cheaper and more successful than traditional mailed notices. The text messages cost 5 cents to send compared to 40-cent postage stamps.
“We mail more than 250,000 pieces annually,” he said. “Rising postage and printing costs are driving us to explore all delivery methods for current and delinquent notices. It cost us in terms of hard dollars next to nothing. It was really pennies on the dollar in what the hard cost was versus the amount of money we collected.”
Once his office fine-tunes the text message and email notifications system for delinquent taxpayers, Lenoir said it could be used to notify all taxpayers.
“Right now we’re targeting delinquent taxpayers, but down the line I could see us reaching current taxpayers and delinquent taxpayers,” Lenoir said.
Lenoir’s office is increasingly using technology to reach delinquent taxpayers. In January, the trustee’s office began calling out Shelby County’s biggest delinquent taxpayers on the Internet.
The trustee’s office posts the names and property addresses of the county’s largest delinquent property tax payers based on total taxes owed on Facebook and Twitter. Each week, the trustee’s office will determine the top five properties from selected ZIP codes and will publish the parcel address, parcel owner’s name and total taxes due.
“Hopefully, some that were on the list the first time will be there the second time,” Lenoir said.