Beaufort News

Auditor's office to no longer tax vehicles with missing information at highest value

After years of paying too much in car taxes, some Beaufort County residents may be in line to pay less after a change announced by the Beaufort County Auditor's Office on Monday.

Auditor Jim Beckert announced in a news release his office will no longer tax vehicles at the highest value if an exact value cannot be found. Instead, vehicles will be taxed at their lowest value. Thee decision follows complaints from county residents who were unaware they had been unnecessarily paying higher taxes for years.

Beckert said his office will use the S.C. Department of Revenue's valuation guide and the Automobile Red Book to assess car values. If an exact value cannot be found, taxes will be levied based on the lowest value criteria in the Automobile Red Book.

The release said Beaufort County was one of the few counties in South Carolina assessing taxes at the maximum value on vehicles without an exact value, a practice that angered some Beaufort County residents.

In August, Lady's Island resident Sue Lauland said she discovered she had paid higher taxes than needed on her Toyota Camry for 13 years, likely costing her hundreds of dollars over the years.

Lauland said Tuesday she was happy to see the change made, but said it wouldn't bring back the money she and others lost paying unnecessary taxes over the years. Her reimbursement for the adjusted taxes on her car this year amounted to just $13.84, she said.

"I'm glad to see it's been rectified, because what they were doing is highway robbery," she said. "It just doesn't seem like it should be so hard to accurately tax people on this."

Beckert, who took office July 1, said the changes needed to be made to reflect guidance given by the Department of Revenue.

The auditor's office will assess a car's value first by using the Department of Revenue guide, which provides values for the majority of cars in the county. If the value is not available in the guide for a new, current year vehicle, the assessed value will use the Red Book's invoice cost, the release said.

Older vehicles with incomplete records will be assessed based on the lowest value criteria in the Red Book until the auditor's office finds or receives information that accurately identifies the vehicle's correct model, the release said.

No information about how much the county could lose in taxes by making the assessment switch was included in Monday's release. Attempts to reach Beckert for comment Tuesday were unsuccessful.

Beckert said in August the auditor's office was working to properly identify cars with missing information, but the office was reliant on residents bringing in documentation to correct those values.

Beckert said in a statement that feedback from residents is still welcomed to make sure they are taxed fairly and appropriately.

To correct information on a motor vehicle tax bill, taxpayers should submit the title, registration and the bill of sale to the Auditor's Office. In accordance with S.C. Code 12-60-2910, taxpayers have the right to appeal a tax assessment or request a refund 30 days from when the tax bill was mailed or the last day to pay the tax bill, the release said. For more information, contact the Auditor's Office at 843-255-2500 or visit the auditor's web page at http://www.bcgov.net/departments/Real-Property-Services/auditor/.

Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.

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