ELLERBE — One town government won’t have to absorb the cost of convenience for residents who want to pay their bills by credit card because state statute says they won’t.
Ellerbe Mayor Lee Berry and town commissioners were taking the word of the credit card company when they voted 4-1 Monday night to absorb what they estimated would be 57 cents per bill paid with plastic.
But it seems the company was wrong: Businesses can’t charge credit card users more, but governmental units can when they collect “any tax, assessment, rate, fee, charge, rent, interest, penalty or other receivable owed.”
“We ran into the same thing last year, and I looked it up,” said Hamlet City Manager Jonathan Blanton, who cited in an email Wednesday the statute language he had found to ward off Hamlet residents’ criticisms of unequal treatment.
“I’d hate to see (Ellerbe) eat that cost when they don’t have to,” he said, adding that he had contacted the University of North Carolina School of Government to make sure his information was correct.
Ellerbe Commissioner Elsie Freeman had cast the lone vote against absorbing the added cost of allowing the use of credit cards. But on Wednesday, she was happy to hear that wouldn’t happen.
“It’s great news,” she said.
“They said (Monday that) it’s illegal” to charge more, she said. Citing the charges other towns levy, she said, “I’m like, how can they do it if it’s illegal?”
The rules on so-called convenience fees or checkout fees changed in January 2013, as the result of a court-sanctioned settlement among retailers, several large banks, and Visa and MasterCard arising out of a class-action antitrust lawsuit.
Until then, credit card companies had prohibited their customers from levying such added fees during face-to-face transactions but allowed them on internet purchases.
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or [email protected]