Property Tax Paying Challenges

After being renovicted from my home of 31 years early in COVID, I became a property owner. I am grateful to be protected from further renoviction, but most of my renter friends have since suffered the same fate.

And there is no end in sight. Due in part to the grotesquely inappropriately named “Tenant Protection Act of 2019”. Which incentivizes evicting long term tenants. And due in part to greedy property owners who seek to evade the already high rent increase limit in that worse than useless law.

As I say, I am grateful to have a home. Being a property owner is not much different than being a renter. I used to do most repairs and I still do so now.

But there is one new bill: Property taxes. Every other bill as a renter or as a property owner allows some kind of autopayment:

  • Electricity
  • Gas
  • Water
  • Internet Service
  • Mortgage
  • Insurance
  • Home Owner Association Fees

But not property taxes. And the property tax bill is the one bill that can get you evicted from your home by the government if you don’t pay it.

I tried calling the office of Harry Hagen, who is the Treasurer and Tax Collector for Santa Barbara County. At 805-568-2920. I asked why it is impossible to set up autopayment. The cheery woman explained that it is not possible because they don’t have such a system set up. Nice.

On one occasion I failed to pay on time because the intervals are very strange. If you are one day late, you are hit with a fine of 10% of what you owe. Nice.

Here is a screen shot of their home page at which has this lovely information:

If you continue on this web site and try to pay, you will encounter another barrier. Here is a screen shot of the payment page at the charmingly named “Heartland” company that profits from all of this.

Do you see the box where it asks for your bank Account Number? My account number is twelve digits long. You don’t get to choose it to be easy to remember or to be easy to type. No problem. You probably have it written somewhere in a text file. And you will just copy and paste it into their form. Wrong.

They won’t let you do that! They warn you on their home page that if you type a digit incorrectly your payment will be refused and you may not know until it is too late.

Just to be sure to maximize the chance of entering your account number incorrectly, they want to be sure that you are forced to type each and every single one of those twelve digits.

And when you are done with that, if you haven’t given up in rage and frustration, they want you to type each and every single one of those twelve digits a second time. Just to be sure. Really sure.

But at least they let you save your payment information for next time, right? Of course not! How silly of you!

If you dare to call that number 805-568-2920 to express your frustration, a very annoyed person will tell you that OTHER people are able to pay on line. I am sure that if they required you to crawl across broken glass to pay, OTHER people might do that, too.

I have a better idea: Maybe if enough people call that number and ask for a better payment system, they might listen? Maybe if we ask our elected officials that might help?

And if our esteemed Treasurer and Tax Collector for Santa Barbara County can’t fix the problem, maybe it is time for a new Treasurer and Tax Collector for Santa Barbara County?

Robert Bernstein


Written by sbrobert

What do you think?


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    • Hector Navarro: Do you work for the County Treasurer and Tax Collector Office?

      From my recent experience, Robert is absolutely right about Heartland’s extraordinarily poor website design, and about the Treasurer’s poor choice to continue to use Heartland as a contract payment processor.

      Some answers to other posters:

      Yes, you do have to re-enter the account number for every attempted payment. However, the requirement for a re-entry is supposed to (and probably does) catch most errors. And, it is indeed as difficult as Robert described, because as soon as you type in one of the 9 to 15 digits in an account number, the digit is replaced with a solid dot (for “security”). And, there is no button to display the number you have entered so that you can check it for correctness. The lack of a copy-and-paste function actually increases the likelihood of entering an incorrect number without improving security in any way. Heartland is one of the very few payment processors whom I have ever seen implement this mechanism. I cannot conceive of any good reason for disabling copy-and-paste for those edit controls.

      “Send a check”: I have had 2 letters, sent Certified Mail from Goleta, containing confidential, time-sensitive information, to a bank and to the IRS, go permanently missing in the USPS system, in the past 3 years. And, USPS lost a paper check that my bank bill-paid” to a university. The whole point of moving one’s payments online is to eliminate the unnecessary intermediate steps that introduce unreliability and poor security into the payment process.

      “Can’t do auto-pay”. Yes, Heartland could do it if they actually wanted to, but I believe they would only want to do it if their client, the Treasurer, told them that not having that function was a deal-breaker. That said, I personally would rather initiate online payments twice per year primarily because Heartland’s website is so poorly designed, implemented and/or maintained.

      My own unnecessary, frustrating, and time-consuming problems trying to pay my property taxes 3 weeks ago using Heartland’s site, and the complete lack of help from the Treasurer’s office in resolving these problems, involve a lot of details that I will not repeat here.

      The executive summary: Heartland initially issued receipts for both of my online payments, and then rejected both for no apparent reason. The bank says that Heartland never submitted the requests, so Heartland’s automated “account number inspection” algorithm mistakenly rejected them before actually submitting them to the bank. According to “Hector” at the Treasurer’s office, that office adds $40 per rejected transaction to the tax bill, for a total of $80 added to my bill. He dismissed my requests to find out why Heartland rejected them, and my assertion that Heartland should eat the cost of their botched submissions. He stated several times that it does not matter whether Heartland was at fault or not; when Heartland mistakenly rejects an attempted payment, the taxpayer is always charged, and must pay, the $40 fee. He said I should pay (including the $80 fee for Heartland’s incompetence) via paper check and USPS from now on. And, just like Hector Navarro who started this comment tree, he said he and “99.999%” of the other users are very satisfied with Heartland. Hector also admitted that most people have problems completing the payment request process on the Heartland site when they try to use Firefox. So, he recommended what I eventually did on my own: use Chrome. Clearly the programming of the Heartland is weak, and poorly tested for QA.

      Eventually, Hector provided me with his supervisor’s phone number, expressing doubt that “Brian” would “forgive” the fees. I left a VM for Brian almost 2 weeks ago, and never heard anything back.

      I think that Harry Hagen should really remove from his official web pages the assertion that he and his office are “Accountable, Customer-focused, Efficient”, because they have not evinced any of those qualities in my dealings with them over the past few weeks.

    • Yes, the deadlines and penalties are the same for at least two other counties that I am personally aware of. Not our local tax collector’s decision. But I’ve noticed that here they ask us to make the check out to Harry Hagen, treasurer-tax collector, while elsewhere they say to make it out to Tax Collector,, Suchandsuch County. Seems odd that SB wants us to put the guy’s name on it.

    • Hector I am not understanding your point. Every utility bill is a different amount each month. So is a credit card bill. Yet they can be set up for autopay. Why is this different?

      What about Robert’s point that you have to type in the account number twice each time? Is that not true?

      • Ahchooo I think you are misunderstanding. The point made above: If you are charged $500 for being late one day on a $5,000 bill, you are being charged a 3650% annual fee for that one day. How would you feel if your credit card company hit you with such a steep fee for being one day late?

        • I do understand, and agree it is a huge penalty. Isn’t that fairly common though? Unfortunately, if there is no penalty, too many people won’t pay on time. Perhaps a lesser penalty would be adequate incentive, I don’t know. But I’ve recently gotten involved with a property owner’s association (elsewhere), and it’s surprising how many people don’t pay on time. The fees for that organization are essential for keeping the private water system functioning. There has to be incentive for people to pay, and pay on time. I imagine it’s the same everywhere, though of course a large county has more reserves and more flexibility.

  1. First world problem for sure…that only has to be done ONCE a year…not a big deal really. I’ve never had an issue with it, despite the antiquated, clunky website. The real crime is the “fee” they charge if you want to use a credit card…it’s quite substantial!

  2. Yeah I agree with the last poster, hey Author – just suck it up and write an old school damn check. Done. Not worth a bunch of debate in my opinion. That’s just my 2 cents, which will probably get deleted because I’m posting on Edhat.

  3. It’s better to pay by check because there’s usually a fee for paying electronically online.
    I find it very helpful to set an annually recurring reminder, as well as backup reminders on my phone and Calendar apps, to avoid missing the deadlines for payment.

  4. There is the option to have your mortgage lender automatically pay this and have it deducted from your mortgage payment.
    Although for those who have their homes paid off and are paying manually, acknowledge the privilege you have by living in a fully paid off home in Santa Barbara. Paying your property tax is property the largest home expense you have in the year, something to be grateful for while the rest of us are paying extreme rents or mortgage payments.

  5. Hilarious – some people will complain about anything. If you’ve dealt with any government office before, you’ll know that most things require you to actually go in in person or send in a paper copy or some other medieval torture system…

    When I bought my condo, I was actually pleasantly surprised with this website! So, I guess you can’t please everyone.

  6. Glad to see my article generated so much interest. I think Hector Navarro works in Harry Hagen’s office. No surprise he defends the system.

    As for the other comments, I find it interesting that people have the time to criticize the one pointing out the problem, but not the one who could fix it.

    How can things ever improve if we don’t point out what is wrong and ask for it to be fixed?

    Here is what needs to be fixed:
    1) Allow scheduled automatic payments just like for every other product and service we use
    2) Allow copying and pasting into the Account Number entry of the payment form
    3) Show the number as it is being entered; right now it is blacked out as it is entered
    4) Allow saving payment information

    I actually do believe government can serve the public. But we have to take the time to make positive suggestions when there is a problem.

    • Now you’re criticizing a commenter as a possible employee of the county office? Geez Robert. Just pay your bill and move on. The rest of us are commenting that we’ve had no issue making the payments.
      1. imagine the complaints if several thousands of dollars were auto debited from people’s accounts. And the potential for bounced payments and fees associated with that.
      2. This is a security issue, some sensitive material like banking numbers and passwords must be entered manually. Just type in the numbers.
      3. Again, security issue.
      4. Again, security issue.

      This is very sensitive material that is being transmitted online and numerous safety measures must be taken. Imagine if Russia hacked the county system and had access to all our banking information. In conclusion, send a physical check or just deal with it.

  7. Here is an expert view from the National Cyber Security Centre in the UK. It explains why copying and pasting passwords and similar information actually increases security.

    “We think that stopping password pasting (or SPP) is a bad thing that reduces security. We think customers should be allowed to paste their passwords into forms, and that it improves security.”

    Many other services require bank information for autopayment. Obviously, it is preferable to be able to use a credit card. But the “security risk” argument makes little sense. Any time you send a check you are giving out your bank account number.

    The real security risk comes from not being able to copy and paste the correct number. And from not being able to see what was entered. If someone wants to challenge these facts, please back it up with an actual reputable source of information.

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