Council to consider expanding tax-appeals board due to years-long backlog

cconley@islandpacket.comMay 19, 2013 

Beaufort County's Tax Equalization Board, which hasn't met since February and faces a years-long backlog, could expand from seven to 15 members under a proposal before Beaufort County Council.

The plan, modeled after a similar system in Charleston County, also would allow appeals related to property taxes to be heard with just five members present.

Proponents say the changes would give the board new tools to work through a backlog of nearly 200 cases, some of which date to September 2011.

"We don't know if it will work yet, but it's a good idea," County Councilman Rick Caporale said.

"By expanding the membership and splitting into the three working committees, we are hoping it will triple the output. That's probably too optimistic a prediction, but it certainly has that potential."

The equalization board last met after its lone staff member left her county job in February, board chairman Robert Cummins Jr. said. Although the county is hiring a replacement, the board can't keep up with the volume of appeals, he said.

"The board is willing to do whatever we can within reason to get the backlog done," he added.

The board meets twice a month and hears four cases at each meeting.

As proposed, the board's 15 members likely would split into three, five-member subcommittees, which would need only three members present for a quorum.

In addition to the backlog, the county is expecting a surge of appeals this year because of the property-tax reassessment that is underway. Residents are expected to get their tax bills with the new assessments in October.

County attorney Josh Gruber said the board would be composed of one member from each of the 11 County Council districts. Two members each from northern and southern Beaufort County would be selected at-large.

Terms are four years for the first eight members appointed this year. The next seven would serve two years, to stagger the terms and prevent the entire board from turning over at the same time. Members are not paid.

The board was created by a state statute in 1973. Although most cases are resolved by the county Assessor's Office, property owners dissatisfied with that review can appeal to the tax board, which has authority to change valuations.

Since the state exempted owner-occupied homes from paying taxes for school operations in 2006, the number of appeals has risen sharply as people try to claim their homes as owner-occupied, Cummins has said.

Since 2009, the county has received about 27,000 appeals, a third of which resulted in adjustments.

The proposed changes in the board's composition have had two of the three necessary readings by County Council over the past month. A public hearing and final vote is planned at today's council meeting, which starts at 4 p.m. at the Bluffton library.

Follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/IPBG_Casey.

Related content:

Backlog for Beaufort County tax appeals 30 months and growing, April 4, 2013

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