If cash, check or credit card seems too old-fashioned, Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg said Monday his office will begin accepting bitcoin as payment for new IDs, license plates and property taxes starting next month.
Greenberg said accepting bitcoin and bitcoin cash as a payment method will promote transparency and accuracy in payment.
“There’s no risk to the taxpayer,” said Greenberg, who has often raised eyebrows since his 2016 election by moves including encouraging certain employees with concealed-weapons permits to carry a firearm openly as a security measure. “Blockchain technology is the future of the whole financial industry.”
Bitcoin, and other cryptocurrencies like it, aren’t issued by the government or regulated by a bank and exist solely online. Detractors of the digital currency say its volatility makes it risky.
“We haven’t had any discussion,” Ayala said. “Frankly, I think the currency is so volatile that I don’t think it makes sense.”
David Jordan, chief deputy for Lake County Tax Collector Bob McKee, said no customer has asked to pay taxes in bitcoin.
“Our staff would have called and mentioned that,” Jordan said.
He said it was interesting but “not on our to-do list.”
He also said he was unsure if there was a statutory provision in Florida law that allows a tax collector to accept cryptocurrency as payment.
But BitPay, the payment processing company with which Greenberg reached a deal, said it eliminates the volatility from the transaction because it guarantees a price for bitcoin for 15 minutes after a bill is generated.
“The county tax office won’t face any volatility risk,” BitPay head of compliance Jeremie Beaudry said.
Under terms of the deal, taxpayers would pay BitPay in the currency through the tax collector’s website, then BitPay would compensate Greenberg’s office in cash. BitPay keeps a 1 percent fee.
Greenberg, a longtime cryptocurrency enthusiast, is bullish on the move and said it will help reduce fraud and identity theft because payments cannot be altered once they’re made.
“The technology is so new and so promising,” Greenberg said, noting taxpayers would be subject to a 1 percent fee BitPay collects, lower than fees charged by credit-card companies.
He couldn’t cite instances of customers asking to pay in the digital currency but said some have complained about higher fees associated with banks and credit cards.
Sean Snaith, director of the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Economic Competitiveness, questioned how bitcoin payments for taxes or government services would be converted into dollars and cents — and how quickly after a transaction.
“I’m not a cryptocurrency expert, but I know that Seminole County’s not paying its employees or its vendors in bitcoin,” he said. “Any payments [the Seminole County Tax Collector’s Office] receives would have to be converted presumably into dollars. Given the volatility of bitcoin prices…I think there’s some risk there that the value could depreciate.”
He noted that BitPay has sponsored a college football bowl game in St. Petersburg and some area businesses and stadium concessions accepted bitcoin payments.
“I don’t think bitcoin will ever supplant the dollar in terms of becoming the medium of exchange,” Snaith said. “I don’t see this as something that’s going to be the norm going forward.”
Greenberg didn’t receive permission from the state before making the decision, he said, nor does he think he needs to.
The state Department of Revenue didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Last year, the agency poured water on Greenberg’s plan to sell off four branch tax collector offices for $13.2 million and then use the money to purchase shopping centers in distressed areas.
The idea was to rent out most of the space to tenants and use the remaining space for drivers-license operations for residents in Orange and Seminole counties.
But the revenue department, which oversees Greenberg’s budget, said taking on the risks of a commercial landlord was unrelated to the function of a tax collector branch office.