SUMMERVILLE — An agreement approved by Summerville Town Council and the Old Fort Fire District will end double taxation of properties annexed by the town.
The district on Jan. 15 and the town on Jan. 9 ratified a plan calling for the town to pay the district $333,453 to amend for taxes the town collected from Summerhaven subdivision property owners. How much, if any, tax revenue will be reimbursed to 127 aggrieved individual taxpayers remains to be resolved.
The agreement also declares that responsibility for fire protection for Summerhaven properties that were annexed by the town now falls to the town. The district had continued to include the properties in its protected area, causing some confusion for residents who assumed they should be protected by the town.
The settlement does not preclude the town and the district from negotiating agreements under which the district would maintain fire protection for all or some properties newly annexed by the town, Audrey Holzhausen, administrator for Old Fort, said.
"Summerhaven now will be covered by the town of Summerville," she said, adding that as before, Old Fort will respond in Summerhaven when called or dispatched to the subdivision.
Holzhausen said firefighters from both departments work well together and have left matters such as taxation issues to the politicians.
The agreement does not mention compensation for the 127 property owners who maintain they have been paying both the district and town for fire protection. But negotiations have been under way since Wednesday to resolve that issue.
"The town certainly owes citizens taxes it collected for two years without authority to do so," said Mike Rose, an attorney representing aggrieved Summerhaven property owners.
Rose, who has been negotiating a settlement with town attorney D. Mark Stokes, said discussions are going well. "We have an agreement In principle for the town to refund two years of unlawfully collected taxes. I am glad that Town Council wants to do the right thing by returning the money wrongfully collected. We should give credit where it is due," he said.
The plan was prepared by a three-person panel comprising Walter M. Bailey, Colin Martin and William R. Hearn. The state requires that a special panel of three be constituted when taxation issues linger after properties are annexed from one taxing entity into another.
The plan calls for the town to pay the district $333,453 within 30 days. "This amount represents due compensation for all annexations between May 1, 2000" and the present, the settlement states.
The agreement includes a mechanism for dealing with tax issues arising when district properties are annexed by the town in the future. These properties will be put into a special tax district for three years as tax revenues eventually shift from the district to the town.
Subdivision residents who began publicly protesting the double taxation more than a year ago are delighted to see the practice will end. Some Summerhaven residents believe they are owed up to several hundred dollars each, but some also said the money is not as important to them as the inability for such a long time to get town, district or county officials to resolve the issue.
"It's not the money, it's the principle," said Dennis Wells of Saw Palm Drive.
Council conceded that the 127 neighbors have overpaid for fire protection by about $28,000, but maintained there's no legal mechanism for refunding money to taxpayers.
Council on Jan. 9 discussed behind closed doors the settlement proposal prepared by the three-person committee. After the executive session, council announced the matter had been discussed but no action taken.
An attempt was made to adjourn that meeting, but Councilman Ricky Waring motioned that council approve the plan, which it did unanimously.