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The Check is in the E-Mail

Talking to James Samson, a partner with Bangser Klein Rocca & Blum, about the city government's E-Pay site is a lot like catching a leprechaun and shaking him down for a few gold coins. Only this leprechaun is more than happy to share the wealth he's found. In fact, he's sent out letters to all his clients telling them where the treasure lies. (It is at

"I love it! I love it! I love it!" exclaims Samson. "I found out about it in April and so far I've found over $200,000. One property on East 83rd Street had $33,000 in credit with the Department of Finance. Another one on 103rd Street had $21,000 in credit. It took about two hours to do. This is something everyone should be checking every once in awhile."

So, what exactly is it everyone should be doing? What is this hidden or not-so-hidden treasure?

About two and a half years ago the Department of Finance (DOF) launched their NYCSERV site, primarily as a means of collecting parking ticket fees. To that end, the site has been a huge success, allowing violators to pay their fines online. In one three-month period this year, more than 59,000 tickets were paid online. January alone saw 36,000.

But the city had loftier goals for the site than just paying parking tickets. Homeowners can view their property taxes and water bills as well. For co-op and condo owners, the property tax aspect is going to be especially appealing. Prior to Labor Day, the interface for property taxes was view only. By typing in a lot number or a building address, a user could view the amount of property tax currently owed or credited. Unlike the parking tickets, however, the user could not take any action electronically on their findings. That all changes after Labor Day.

Starting in the beginning of September, the NYCSERV site is now going to allow owners to pay their property tax bills electronically. No postal service needed.

"This is a pretty big deal," says Peter Lempin, deputy commissioner for taxpayer assistance and payment operations. "You will be able to just plug in the block or lot number, write the check, and have it applied to your account that day. If you had to mail it, the check has to go to a lock box and then it takes a couple days to process it. There are a lot of computer literate professionals out there that this will help to save money. They won't have to make special trips to us. They can go check at their desk and interface directly with the city and get immediate feedback."

The program works fairly simply. The user pre-registers at the site using an Equifax program. Once he/she is cleared, the user is given an ID number that will allow him/her to process checks on a regular basis. It's as easy as surfing to the right screen, hitting a few buttons, and sending payment away.

The cost is $1.50 per check, but the program does allow for consolidation. As more of the city's bills come online — they will be added in two- to three-week intervals following the initial launch of E-Checking — the user will be able to put all the charges onto one bill and pay with one check. (There are no plans to allow for credit card payment of other charges. The cost would be too prohibitive, Lempin reports.)

For those of you hoping that the system may work like the Internal Revenue Service's direct deposit of refunds, the bad news is that this system works only one way. You can pay, but you can't collect. DOF still needs to see the hard proof where credits are involved — most often, cancelled checks. There is no way to do this electronically, says Lempin. He does note, however, that credits are automatically applied to future tax periods without any action required by the user. This is usually done in spring.

The pot of gold will be going mobile soon, as well. According to Lempin, the DOF will be placing E-Payment kiosks in their business centers in each of the boroughs. The kiosks will serve as quick-deposit centers during peak hours when the crowds may get large, typically Monday mornings, Friday afternoons, and times of the year when the office is very busy. The main purpose of them will not be informational but to process payments: call your property up, check out your bill, send the E-check off. Simple.

There is one additional benefit to the whole system, says Samson. With the ability to constantly monitor tax payments and other bills, boards are able to keep an eye on how their managers are doing. Are there constant late fees? What sorts of violations are happening? "It's another tool boards can use and you can do it at 3 A.M. on some sleepless night. Just click on and see what's going on in your building."

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