Property Appraiser Mike Wells is rolling out an online application for homestead exemptions, which he says will be more convenient for homeowners and save his office processing time.
Starting Monday, Pasco residents can choose to file the application in one of four property appraiser locations or at their own leisure online.
"They can do it at 2 in the morning," Wells said.
Wells said his staff has been pushing for years for an online application for the homestead exemption, which reduces the property tax bill on a homeowner's primary residence. Wells gave his blessing six months ago. His goal is to offer a convenience that will save his office processing time.
"We wanted the thing to be easy for the public and we wanted it to be safe," he said. "We also wanted to offer some savings to taxpayers."
The property appraiser's office receives between 8,000 and 14,000 homestead applications each year. Wells said the system will be successful if half of those applications are filed online.
If enough people file online, Wells said it will allow him to eliminate some positions in his office. He said that would likely occur as people retire and jobs are left unfilled, not by layoffs.
The application includes a series of 11 pages where homeowners must provide information such as their driver's license number, vehicle registration information and Social Security number, which is used to confirm an owner's identity. That number will be kept confidential. Owners must also provide a previous home address and say when they moved into their current home.
Wells said there's a practical reason for rolling out the system now: Most people file for a homestead exemption in January or February. Applications received through March 1, 2013 will take effect for the 2013 tax year.
"This is the slowest time of the year for homestead apps," he said. "If it blows up, we won't have much of a fire to put out."
Several other property appraisers offer online applications, including Pinellas and Hillsborough and Hernando. Some offices send an application back to the owner for a hard signature. But Wells' system is all electronic. He said the applicant requires enough personal information to prevent fraud.
"We could pretty well nail it down that it's you," he said.
Additionally, the software flags potential fraudulent applications that staff can investigate. "We'll let the electronic age catch the scofflaws," he said.
Lee Logan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6236.