As the second half of property taxes are coming due, the Steele County Treasurer’s Office is taking extra steps to provide a safe, secure option for those still needing to make payments.
The Steele County Board of Commissioners unanimously agreed on Tuesday to enter into a temporary lease agreement to set up a tax payment drive-thru in the former Old Wells Federal Bank building across from Cash Wise in Owatonna for the first two weeks in October. Treasurer Cathy Piepho said this will help the county both lower the risk of COVID-19 exposure in the administration building as well as give taxpayers “peace of mind” when making payments in person.
“There were people calling wondering if they could come in to pay during the first half, but at that time our building was closed due to the pandemic,” Piepho said. “There were a fair number of people that wanted to wait until the building was open so they could hand us that check – there is something I think satisfying for them to know someone has physically received their payment.”
Though Piepho’s office has had a drop box for secure tax payments located outside the administration building for the last five years, she said it is understandable that people feel more confident in handing their payments directly to a county employee. By providing a drive-thru option at another location, Piepho said the people who typically would come in will have the opportunity.
“We are still taking payments in person at my office, too,” Piepho said, adding that she has been using the information desk located at the front of the administration building on Florence Avenue so property owners can make a quick payment. While that option is still available, Piepho said the drive-thru option will also be crucial in providing additional safety in regards to exposure to COVID-19.
“With all the hype and talk about how big this presidential election is going to be – and considering we share offices with the auditor’s office – we knew it was going to get kind of crowded in here,” Piepho said. “We wanted to see if there were another means to provide for people to get that satisfaction of giving us that check while keeping our staff and voters safe.”
Because of concerns with COVID-19 and the social distancing recommendations to keep individuals safe, Piepho said they will be using dollars from the county’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funds to pay for the temporary lease. The cost to rent the space for the two-week period the county has selected will be $1,500. Piepho said the staff at the drive-thru will be performing the same duties and tasks, as well as working the same hours, as they would be without COVID-19 or the drive-thru, so payroll will not be impacted.
“If people want to pay their taxes, but don’t know how much or need further information, we encourage them to call our office before heading over to the drive-thru,” Piepho said. “That way they can be prepared.”
During the first half of property tax payments, the Steele County commissioners deferred penalties for late payments up to 60 days due to the pandemic. Piepho said no such provisions are taking place for the second half at this time and that she is not anticipating they will be necessary moving forward.