Cash payments, liens on property and a new insurance plan for Torrance

Torrance County will now take payments by credit or debit card, mailed out 754 notices of liens, and the county is getting a new insurance plan, after its commission meeting last week.

Payments will now be taken by credit card through a service called Paygov.us LLC, said Treasurer Janice Barela.

Until now, the county has only taken payments for tax bills and other services by money order, check or cash.

“The county won’t pay anything,” Barela said. “It will be passed on to the people that use it as far as a convenience fee.”

Another benefit will be that two scanners will be placed in the county clerk’s office, so that a person coming in to get a public document won’t have to have the clerk stand in line at the treasurer’s office to run the transaction, Barela said.

“We have people who travel in from all over the place,” she said. “It’s not always convenient when we tell them they can only pay with a check or cash, because these days people don’t carry their checkbooks and not everybody has cash on them, not to the amount they need to pay their taxes. So they usually have to make another trip to the bank or ATM—that can be very frustrating when you’ve been standing in line and you get up there and that’s when you find out about it.”

Barela said that as of the previous day, 670 accounts were still delinquent. “Two years ago we did set out to put tags on each one of these mobile homes in order to notify the owners that a lien had been placed,” she explained, “and we did have more success with that than from just mailing out the notices.”

This year “because of staff issues” tags were not placed on every single mobile home with a lien, Barela said.

After a question by Commissioner Julia DuCharme, Barela explained that liens are set against a property “once they are delinquent for one year.” A fee of $25 to the treasurer’s office is also levied, along with penalties and interest. To clear the lien the landowner has to pay all of that, then the lien is removed, she explained.

Barela also reported to the commission that she reorganized her office, giving raises to the workers, without adding to the budget. Three years ago, she said, a vacancy in the office was “underfilled” by the previous treasurer with an entry level position. That was done as a money-saving measure.

“All the responsibility for that position fell onto the rest of the staff with no compensation at all,” Barela said. “After I reviewed the budget with [comptroller] Tracy [Sedillo] and after talking with [deputy county manager] Annette [Ortiz] I was told that if I could make it work in my budget without having to come to the commission to ask for an increase that I could compensate them.”

The county also voted to cancel its insurance plan for employees through the state, and to enter a contract with an insurance broker and new insurance company. “We had two really good responses from United and Presbyterian,” said County Manager Joy Ansley. She said the plans were comparable but the “numbers are a little different.”

Because Presbyterian Medical Services are in the county already with facilities, the Presbyterian was recommended by the broker and accepted by the commission.

The move will mean a savings of $77,000 a year, Ansley said, which she hopes the county will use to pay a larger percentage of the cost of that insurance for employees. Currently the county pays for 70 percent. “We might be able to bump that up to 80 or even 85 percent,” she said.

“If we can help with more percentage, sometimes that’s more beneficial than an across-the-board wage increase,” said Commissioner LeRoy Candelaria. “That’s one of the highest costs as an employee is to pay our insurance. If we can help them by making this savings, I think that’s well worth it.”

The previous plan cost the county $65,450 a month; the new plan includes a monthly fee to the broker of $2,500 a month and still comes in at “about $61,000 a month,” Ansley said.