HICKS COLUMN: Summey right on tax bills?

There are some people out there who owe Elliott Summey an apology. For months, the Charleston County councilman has been saying that the auditor's failure to mail property tax bills on time is a disaster waiting to happen. Well, the wait is over. It's Nov. 6, and the property tax bills are a month overdue. That may sound good to folks who don't particularly want that piece of bad news in the mail anyway, but there are real problems coming. --Without incoming property tax revenue, some smaller government entities -- many of which don't have huge reserves -- are in danger of shutting down. Places like Lincoln- ville and Awendaw, and even the St. Andrew's Parks and Recreation Commission, just won't have the money to operate. --Mortgage companies don't yet have the records necessary to pay property taxes for the roughly one-third of all property owners in the county who pay through escrow accounts. They usually get the information in mid-September. It takes a while to process all that, and the year is running out. Not only is this a cash-flow problem for the county -- the property tax payments from the mortgage companies amounts to about $200 million -- but many folks could miss that valuable property tax credit for their 2011 federal income taxes. "This thing just spins and spins out of control more every day," Summey says. Worried now? Hardly working? The problem, Charleston County Auditor Peggy Moseley says, is that the new computer system that should generate the bills has flaws. Other counties are having problems, too, Moseley says, and she will not send out tax bills that are wrong. That's a good policy. Summey says, however, that every year there are problems in some small number of bills. Right now, there are problems with about 5,000 bills -- and most of them are billing address issues that have nothing to do with the new computer system. And -- surprise, surprise -- there is even disagreement in the county about the effectiveness of this new system. Little-known fact: The same system is used by four offices in county government: the assessor, the auditor, the treasurer and the delinquent tax offices. And three of those offices say the system is working fine. So what's the hold up? Showdown coming County Council has finally heeded Summey's advice. Well, part of it.

Summey wanted to call the governor and have Moseley suspended from office. Council elected instead to send a letter to request that Moseley show up at a council meeting Thursday to answer questions. Moseley says she will go. Good -- let's get it over with. This is a big deal, and it could have a ripple effect throughout the county. The auditor's office should be working around the clock to get this fixed. Or maybe asking the other county offices for help, since they don't seem to be having any problems with this new system. All this makes it look like Summey has been right all along.