One of the most publicized aspects of the federal tax bill approved by Congress on December 19th, 2017, was the new $10,000 cap on state and local taxes (SALT) that people could write off for federal income tax purposes. Taxpayers in high tax states like California and New York rushed to pay any outstanding tax bills before the end of the 2017 calendar year to maximize their SALT deduction before it diminished.
In San Francisco, the Office of the Treasurer and Tax Collector received more than $241 million in property tax payments in less than two weeks — more than eight times the amount collected during the same period in 2016. The majority of these were second-installment payments for 2017 property taxes that don’t become delinquent until April 10th, 2018.
Local news crews rushed to City Hall expecting to see long lines of taxpayers waiting to pay their bills — the same scene that was unfolding in Tax Collector offices around the State and country. But here in San Francisco, wait times were short.
While the huge influx of payments was unexpected, several recent enhancements to our property tax payment system helped our city get through this period with very little inconvenience to taxpayers or staff.
"The rush to pay taxes early was unlike anything I’ve seen in my tenure as San Francisco Treasurer"
In the summer of 2017, the Office:
1. Transformed its front-end systems by redesigning the back of the property tax bill and online landing pages for taxpayers and consolidating four separate tax payment portals into a single system powered by Adobe Experience Manager Forms.
2. Simplified language on automated notices taxpayers receive after attempting to pay taxes online via e-check, credit, or debit.
3. Added a payment failure email when taxpayers entered the incorrect account number, or had insufficient funds to pay the bill.
Traditionally, the Office collects more than $2 billion in secured property taxes through a mix of in-person, mail, and online payments. After making the improvements to our online processing system, we saw an 8-percent increase in the number of payments made through the online system before the December 11th, 2017 deadline.
These improvements to our online processing were put to the test during the rush of unexpected payments in late December following the passage of the federal tax reform bill. In the two weeks after the signing of the federal tax reform bill, we received $241 million in payments — more than eight times the value collected during the same period in 2016.
The rush to pay taxes early was unlike anything I’ve seen in my tenure as San Francisco Treasurer. I want to thank all of our staff — IT, cashiers, accountants, banking analysts, and customer service representatives — who managed the unexpected workload over the holidays with the utmost professionalism. I am proud that our improvements and hard work helped taxpayers weather a particularly stressful moment without any additional headaches.