Just when you thought Charleston County tax bills couldn’t get any screwier, they do.
More than 130 James Island residents who just annexed into the city of Charleston got supplemental tax bills this year asking for more money — anything from $40 to $150. This, after the city specifically said that wouldn’t happen.
Welcome to Charleston! Thing is, this isn’t the city’s fault. The city says those folks should only pay James Island Public Service District taxes for 2011, and the PSD agrees.
But still, there have been no refunds.
The failure to communicate here is at the county. Because months after both sides pointed out the problem, the county has done nothing — well, except collect interest on other people’s money.
Now, some Charleston County officials are demanding action and fear they are going to get sued if they don’t fix this pronto. And you know who they blame?
That’s right: Peggy Moseley.
At the end of January, the county attorney’s office sent Moseley, the county auditor, a memo that laid out the law. It suggested that a person pays their property taxes to the jurisdiction they were a part of on the previous Dec. 31.
In other words, if a James Islander joined Charleston anytime during 2011, they don’t pay city property taxes until their 2012 bill.
Moseley says she knows the law; her office did it that way until 2004, when some cities asked for the change. Leaving annexed folks classified the old way was messing up fire and police responses, she says.
“I don’t want people to say we did something wrong — we didn’t,” Moseley says.
In February, the PSD and Mayor Joe Riley wrote letters to Moseley asking her to just charge those folks for PSD taxes on their 2011 bills.
Moseley says she doesn’t care either way and will change it as soon as the city and PSD sign an agreement that she asked county attorneys to draw up. She wants it in writing.
The city and PSD say, basically, don’t those letters count?
It’s been 80 days since the county attorney laid down the law. And that has some officials worried.
“If we take people’s money and we made a mistake, we’ve got to do something,” says County Council Chairman Teddie Pryor. “This money needs to be refunded before we end up in a lawsuit.”
Basically, this boils down to a tax bill problem. The county treasurer can’t refund the money until the bills are fixed. And while some at the county blame Moseley for dragging this out, she blames the new county computer system. People received incorrect tax bills because the system was down too long for her office to record the annexations; otherwise, people would have gotten a single bill, she says.
Clearly, there are politics at play here, and it’s no surprise that the new computer system plays a role. But who did what to whom or who messed up what is of secondary importance at the moment.
“The bottom line is, the only people getting hurt here are the taxpayers,” says County Councilman Elliott Summey.
That’s why the county needs to get this fixed — and quick.
Reach Brian Hicks at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @BriHicks_PandC.