By DAN GUZEWICH Staff writer

Oneida County is exploring the possibility of accepting credit and debit card payments from residents for property taxes and some other fees. They might even be able to pay electronically by check.

Should this happen, the county will join a growing number of governments that offer payment options besides cash or check. Property owners in the cities of Rome and Utica can pay their annual levy via credit card, as can people who owe income tax to New York state.

The Internal Revenue Service also has various electronic payment options for paying federal taxes and user fees.

Paying by credit or debit card has become commonplace at businesses over the years.

Now the county is weighing whether it will join them. It is asking companies to submit proposals "to provide county with in-office, phone and internet payment electronic payment service options through which payments can be made directly to Oneida County via credit/debit cards and/or e-check options." Electronic payments would be accepted at the counter.

Responses are due May 11.

The change is being primarily eyed by Finance Commissioner Anthony Carvelli for the payment of property taxes and fees charged by the Health Department, especially by its Environmental Health Division.

He said if the county starts accepting electronic payments, it could be expanded to other revenues if future needs and conditions, volume and cost-versus-benefit warrant.

County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr. said the electronic payment option could be a convenience factor for some and make county government more accessible to others.

The use of plastic may be a convenience, but the alternative to writing a check or paying in cash would not be free. The county does not want to incur any expense by taking credit and debit cards — the cost would rest with people who use this option. A charge, referred to as a "convenience fee," would be added by the processing company to the total due. The fee, generally based on the amount of the transaction, would be kept by the company.

The fee for credit card payments is often in the range of 2.5 percent. That means if a county tax bill is $500 and the fee is 2.5 percent, the combined payment would be $512.50.

On the other hand, there is no added expense other than the cost of an envelope and a stamp, 45 cents, when paying by mail. There is no extra cost at all when paying in person besides the person’s time.

There is no estimate of how many payments might be made electronically if that option is offered.

Picente said he believes review of a proposed contract for payment processing by the Board of Legislators would be required.

"I would have to see some indication that there would be some kind of cost-benefit for the county to do it," said Majority Leader George E. Joseph, R-10, Westmoreland. "I’m all about change, but there has to be good reason to do it." He adds that the use of credit and debit cards is popular with shoppers, noting that his store would probably lose business if it didn’t accept credit cards.

"I don’t know the specifics of it (contracting with a firm to process payments)," said Minority Leader Frank D. Tallarino, D-7, Rome. "I would prefer the county to be doing it (payment processing), as we wanted to do several years back."