Since returning to the City Council after two decades away, Ward 5 Councillor Al Fiore has been a vocal opponent of the fees and fines he has said that “whack the little guy.”
At last Monday night’s City Council meeting, Fiore presented a motion asking Mayor Brian Arrigo to appear before the council to explain why taxpayers, rather than the city, are being charged an additional three percent tax when using a credit card. “I’ve gotten calls from residents that people who can’t really afford to pay their taxes are doing it by credit card and are getting hit with a three percent fee,” said Fiore.
Fiore said the roughly $300,000 to $400,000 in annual fees is not a lot of the money compared to the overall municipal budget. “When the pizza shop owner sells a pizza for 12 bucks, he pays the three percent,” said Fiore. “So, philosophically, I’m just wondering the reason … the city is asking the taxpayer to absorb the three percent.”
Richard Viscay, Revere’s finance director, stepped to the podium to clear up questions about the credit card fees for city payments. He noted that during the pandemic the city suspended a number of fees, including the three percent credit card pass-through fee. The city ended the suspension of the fees at the end of 2021.
Viscay said the city covered about $300,000 in credit card fees in 2020, with the number increasing to over $400,000 in 2021. “It’s quite costly to pick those fees up,” said Viscay. While merchants do pick up the credit card pass-through fees, he said, the city cannot legally waive those fees for its bills.
“So there are two things that we can do, which is either pass along that service charge, which isn’t really a charge that the city is giving to the taxpayer, but more so the credit card company for the use of the credit card,” said Viscay, or we could absorb it.”
Viscay said the city has gotten word out about the other ways residents can pay their tax bills without incurring credit card fees, including using a debit card, paying online using an ACH payment or mailing or dropping off a check.
“It has been quite costly to cover those fees, and it’s only going to go up once people know they can pay their taxes with their credit card and reap the benefits of mileage on flights, etc.,” said Viscay. “I think it would be great if we could absorb these fees, but I can see this becoming a seven figure line item as people found out about it more and more. So we made the tough decision to suspend that, and we are certainly getting calls on it as well, but we want people to know what the fee is and it’s not a fee we are charging.”
Fiore said he understood where Viscay was coming from but said that some people may be using the credit cards on tax payments because they cannot afford to make the payment all at once. Fiore also said the city needs to focus on getting the City Hall budget under control and give more financial breathing room to its residents. “We keep spending, and taxes keep going up, and we keep whacking the little guy,” said Fiore.
Ward 4 Councillor Patrick Keefe said the city should be looking at additional ways to assist taxpayers who may have trouble paying their bills.
Ward 2 Councillor Ira Novoselsky added that if the city did pick up the service fee payments, it would have to be absorbed into the budget and would still ultimately be passed along to the taxpayers.
Fiore’s motion was sent to the City Council’s Ways and Means Subcommittee for further discussion.