Car tax bills may arrive too late in Charleston County

Elliott Summey

Car tax bills could be late for Charleston County residents whose tags expire at the end of October, leaving drivers at risk for being pulled over and ticketed by police.

County Auditor Peggy Moseley said Thursday that a new computer system to which the county recently began converting is so flawed she doubts tax bills will go out on time.

Moseley said county leaders forged ahead, despite her warning about the new system. But one County Council member said the fault lies with Moseley, who is still smarting from issues with her own personal tax bill.

County Councilman Elliott Summey, at a press conference later in the day, said the bills will go out at the end of September, unless Moseley continues to withhold information from other county departments.

Summey attributed Moseley's resistance to working with the new system to retaliation. The county assessor's office removed agricultural exemptions from her Johns Island residence and two adjacent parcels of property last summer, a move that significantly increased her property tax bills.

Conversion to the computer system has slowed things down a bit for residents in the short run, Summey said. Vehicle tax bills for the end of October normally would have been mailed in late August. But residents will get their bills in enough time to renew their tags, unless Moseley continues to hold things up, he said.

Summey said Moseley is instructing her employees to not interact with other county employees to get the new system up and running efficiently. "That's reckless," he said.

Moseley said that's not true. The county switched to the new system against her advice, she said, and the system doesn't work well. "I'm not sending out incorrect tax bills," she said.

Summey said he and other council members are making a final plea to Moseley to get on board with the new system. "If she cannot, she should resign," he said.

Charleston resident Mary Louise Schabel, whose tags expire at the end of October, said she doesn't care whose fault it is. She simply wants to get her bill on time, and pay it online.

Donnie Giacomo, the county's technical services director, said the new system's online payment function is down until early October. That's simply an unfortunate part of the conversion process, he said.

Schabel said she won't be available to pay her bill in October; she wanted to do it online in September. County officials told her she could come to one of the county's service centers and pay her bill in person, then go to the Department of Motor Vehicles and pick up her tags.

"Something's not right here," said Schabel, who doesn't want to go to two different locations and stand in two lines. "Are we going back to the 1950s when computers hadn't been heard of?"

Moseley said she asked other county officials to hold off on changing systems until property tax bills went out at the end of September, but they wouldn't do it. "The system we already have is working, and the one that they are going to has many, many errors."

Moseley said that in addition to taxes on vehicles, she's concerned about tax bills for property and homes.

She's now hoping to get those bills out by the end of October. They aren't due until January, she said.

Giacomo said the new Menatron computer system soon will be up and running. The county was using the same system it had been using since 1991, he said, and 41 million records have to be converted.

Beaufort and Colleton counties have converted to the Menatron system, he said. Both counties had some initial problems with it, but that's because they had never tested the data before they made it available to the public.

Charleston County has run nine such tests, he said, and the new system will soon be up and running.