Pay probate with plastic, incur fees

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 27, 2014

Beginning Jan. 1, 2015, customers of the Covington County Probate Office will be charged a convenience fee to use a debit or credit card. The fee will be $3.75 or 3 percent of the total charge, whichever is greater.

Probate Judge Ben Bowden said this is a change from prior procedure, which allowed a customer to use their card at no extra cost.

The procedure changed after the Covington County Commission in September approved a plan to put credit card capabilities in the offices of the sheriff, county engineer, probate judge, mapping and appraisal and revenue commissioner. Previously, only the probate office had that capability.

All county credit/debit card transactions incur a transaction fee that must be paid to the company that processes the charge. For the last several years, the county has covered that cost out of the general county budget. This allowed customers of the probate office to use their cards without incurring any additional fees for the transaction.

“Most people who have followed this will recall that I was opposed to the change,” Bowden said. “I was unsuccessful in convincing the county commission to continue to absorb these costs.”

State law gives the county commission the authority to decide the terms of credit/debit transactions at all county-level offices. In addition, the processing fee was being paid each month out of the county general fund. The commission decides how that money is to be spent as well.

Earlier this year, the commissioners voted to enter into a contract with a credit/debit card processing company that would place the processing fee on the customer using the card. This allowed the county commission to offer credit/debit card services at all county offices, including the revenue commissioner’s office and the sheriff’s office, for the first time. Previously, only the probate office accepted credit/debit cards.

“I am disappointed, especially for the customer. I had hoped we could continue to offer this service at no cost,” Bowden said. “I understand—card use has gone up each year and so does the cost. The commission has to consider all of the county offices and the overall impact on their budget. The law places the responsibility for this decision with the county commission and I respect their choice,” Bowden said. “And, of course, there is no fee associated with using cash or personal checks.”