Charleston County government has been sending out multiple bills for the same properties and collecting many thousands of dollars in overpaid taxes, an attorney and former county councilman said.
"This is wrong," said Curtis Bostic, who is representing a family estate in a civil suit against the county. "The tax code doesn't allow you to do this. I'm not trying to make waves. I love the county. But this is wrong. This is just flat thievery."
County Administrator Allen O'Neal said Tuesday that because the issue is in litigation, it would be inappropriate for him to comment. O'Neal did say that the issue "is multi-dimensional. It's not just real straightforward. You're hearing one piece."
Bostic, who served on County Council from 2000 to 2008, said he learned of the issue from another lawyer who was handling a property dispute.
Bostic has since found 594 instances of what he said is double billing, brought it to the attention of more county officials but said the practice still continues.
Leslie Ayers, who lives in California, is a co-trustee of a family trust that owns about 17 vacant parcels in the
East Cooper area. She said the trust has overpaid taxes for more than 20 years.
While the county has reimbursed the trust for the past two years, the trust has hired Bostic to sue the county to collect the rest -- a sum of more than $250,000 -- and to change the practice.
"I just feel this is unfair," Ayers said.
Bostic said some duplicate bills are created because sloppy property descriptions have put the same piece of land into two tax map numbers, a problem more common in African-American communities.
Bostic said the county assigns a parcel identification number, also known as a "TMS" number, to each piece of property. If two or more people knowingly or unknowingly file a deed or plat involving the same piece of property, each will get a different parcel identification number and a separate tax bill.
"There are some of these where four or five people are paying tax on the same property," he said. "Who goes out and checks the metes and bounds of their properties?"
Bostic said other counties notify property owners when they discover a discrepancy in the records in which multiple bills are created for one parcel.
Bostic's website includes a portion of April 7 testimony from Charleston County Assessor Toy Glennon in which she said the county doesn't tell potential taxpayers that there is a second TMS number for the property.
Bostic said the practice apparently predated Glennon's promotion to the assessor's job, but she has chosen to continue it. Glennon reports to O'Neal.
The web page of Bostic's law firm -- www.bosticlaw.com -- has a tool that lets people check to see if their property is being double taxed, but he said he is not necessarily looking for more clients.
Instead, he wants to see the system changed.
"I can tell you this: This is one of the few times I've been practicing law where I honestly have a passion for something," he said. "I just think it's wrong. I think it's as crooked and as deceitful as anything I've seen in public government."
Council Chairman Teddie Pryor said Tuesday he respects Bostic and expects to get a legal briefing on the issue soon. Pryor said he couldn't comment much beyond that because of the pending lawsuit.
"I'm not going to get hooked on trying this thing in the newspaper because it doesn't do the taxpayers any good," Pryor said.