Beaufort News

Computer problems, work backlogs snarl car tag renewals

St. Helena Island resident Jack King received notice Jan. 13 that his vehicle tags were to expire at the end of the month. He dropped a check in the mail the next day, but Jan. 31 came and went.

He waited for more than a week.

The tags finally arrived Wednesday.

"I feel it's just poor customer service," said his wife Molly, adding that he could have been needlessly stopped if law enforcement noticed he was driving with expired tags.

King's experience is a repeat of a problem that has persisted since the county installed new computer software in 2008 to replace a system that was about 30 years old.

The problem continues in part because registration-renewal notices are being mailed late, one county official says.

"We have a policy that says that we mail them out 45 days in advance of the last day they could pay it," said Auditor Sharon Burris, whose office sends the notices.

But the county's Manatron software prevents that from happening, and the bug affecting car tags is among the last to be fixed, according to Burris.

"It's been probably the most difficult piece to wrap our arms around and we've been struggling with the timeliness issue now for several months," said county administrator Gary Kubic. "I apologize to everyone for the delays but we're trying to fix it."

The county is leaning on the software's maker to fix the problem, Kubic said, adding that the company is deducting the cost of correcting problems from the county's bill.

Even if payments are sent immediately after the notice is received, Treasurer's Office employees have told residents it might take weeks to process them.

"She said, 'Ma'am, we process thousands of checks every day. We may not get to your check for two or three weeks,'" Molly King said.

Hilton Head Island resident Mary Hall said she was told "they were several weeks behind," and backlogged mail was being distributed to branch offices for processing in an effort to catch up.

Attempts Tuesday and Wednesday to reach County Treasurer Joy Logan for comment were unsuccessful.

Kubic said the volume of annual property tax payments, which were due Jan. 15, might be causing the delay.