Council member supports implementation of RITA

To the editor:

To the residents of Salem: as your councilperson for the past eight years, I want to thank you for the confidence in me you have shown through your vote to keep me for the next four years.

While it is an honor to serve you, it is also a heavy responsibility. I am always willing to listen to your opinion and try to solve your problems. There will be times when I am able to solve your problems and times when I can not. There are times when I can agree with your views and times when I must respectfully disagree. This is true of all councilmen and their residents. I want you to know, when I disagree with your opinion, it is based on extensive research and information to which I have access through my position on council.

There has been so much controversy around the decision to contract with RITA. RITA is a regional income tax collection agency. It saves communities money by sharing the cost among many cities. More and more successful companies are saving on expenses by outsourcing jobs when they can achieve similar outcomes. This is what our city government has asked to do with tax collection. After months of intensive research into RITA, input from long-time users (both taxpayers and city governments), studies involving our budget, income and expenses, I decided that RITA is definitely a good move for Salem. It will save money. And the savings will be every year, not just once. In every other city, similar to ours, the estimated annual savings RITA presented was realized. In most of those cities, the savings was greater. All the city representatives I spoke with, were pleased with the service and professionalism RITA gave.

In speaking to employers about the RITA process for paying employee local taxes, the reports were stellar. They state that payroll deduction is much easier.

People who file their taxes through RITA, tell me that there is really no difference between RITA and their previous system. When these general taxpayers needed information, they said that RITA was able to give them the information needed quickly over the phone. Most people liked the online filing option, while others chose to to file by paper. A few people admitted that they were anxious filing with RITA the first year, but it was fine the second year.

I have heard the little old lady who will be inconvenienced by online filing so many times, but the reality is that little old ladies living off Social Security are not required to pay city taxes, and those who do pay city tax, seem to manage their federal and state returns.

For the past eight years, I have asked the city to update their processes by allowing citizens to do more online. My water and sewer are the only utilities I couldn’t arrange to hook up without personally taking off work and walking into city hall. I got electric, gas, and cable hook-ups online or by phone. I can’t file my city taxes and pay online, I have to fill out a form, write a check and mail it. Our housing inspectors fill out a paper inspection form, take it back to city hall, have it sent out to the property owners and take a few days each week to prepare the monthly reports, file the forms, and schedule inspections. Software is available to use an iPad or tablet to document inspections, and email them directly to property owners along with the next inspection date. Owners could submit payment when needed with debit card online. No need for days in the office. Zoning office could operate online for permit application also. But in these cases, I have been told this is too expensive.

Now we find a company that can collect our taxes efficiently, and bring city hall one step into the 21st century. And it saves us money every year without costing the taxpayers one cent more.

The only negative for me is the loss of two full time and two part time jobs. I don’t like this. These people have six months to find new jobs if they want a new job. One of the full-time people has been employed long enough to retire with city retirement. The other full-time employee had the recent opportunity to apply for a clerk position in utilities at a higher wage and didn’t even apply. This was after it became clear that RITA was coming. The part-time employees have many available jobs open in the local area, part time. So while I hate to lose there talents, the decision is clear.

Our city expenses are going up every year. That includes the tax department which costs us more every year even if our taxes don’t increase. If we don’t find savings where we can, we could be back to laying off safety forces and raising taxes. That was the reality just before I was first elected. We have a $1.6 million carry over today. It take $750,000, almost half that, to pay our bills the first quarter of the year while we collect taxes. Oil and gas money gave us the ability to pay down debt and put our policemen and dispatchers back to work. I don’t believe we will get more of that in the future. Our street tax barely passed this time. I foresee that we won’t get that again either. So how do we keep the city safe and maintained without raising taxes? We cut spending. That is reality today. We hire RITA and modernize our city departments to work efficiently and cut expenses. So what are you willing to pay or cut to keep Salem going?

Cyndi Baronzzi Dickey,

Ward 4, Salem