Beaufort News

Own underwater property? You may owe fees and not know it

Beaufort County documents show an example of properties that have been submerged due to sea-level rise. Owners of such properties are being charged a stomwater utility administration fee and may not know it.
Beaufort County documents show an example of properties that have been submerged due to sea-level rise. Owners of such properties are being charged a stomwater utility administration fee and may not know it. Beaufort County

As sea levels rise and the shoreline erodes, some formerly beachfront properties in Beaufort County are now underwater.

Owners of these submerged properties — despite contributing nothing to local stormwater runoff problems — are charged county stormwater utility administrative fees and often may not even realize it.

County officials are working on changes to the stormwater ordinance that would get submerged property owners off the hook for the fees and allow them turn their properties over to a county trust.

As the county navigated the first billing cycle for a new stormwater utility rate structure adopted last fall, “we ran into a few a speed bumps,” stormwater manager Eric Larson told the Beaufort County Commission’s Natural Resources Committee earlier this week.

One of those speed bumps is the annual $12 administrative fee, which is placed on all properties — underwater or not.

Owners of those submerged properties are often “unaware they even still own the property, thinking it is lost to the sea and owned by the government,” county documents say.

The proposed amendment to the stormwater ordinance would allow county staff to identify submerged properties and “zero out” the administrative fees so long as the owner relinquishes their ownership and gives the property to the county, Larson said.

In this scenario, “the property owner would no longer be bothered” with worrying about administrative fees for parcels of eroded land that may not have been seen above water for years, he said.

Some people may hang onto it, thinking, ‘You never know, maybe 10 years down the line, it might be beachfront property again.’

Josh Gruber, deputy county administrator

These owners are under no obligation to turn their properties over to the government.

The submerged plots are “still titled and owned by people; they’re just not buildable,” deputy county administrator Josh Gruber said. “Some people may hang onto it, thinking, ‘You never know, maybe 10 years down the line, it might be beachfront property again.’ 

For those who don’t want to take that risk, “we want to give them a way to get out from under” the responsibility of paying the administrative fees, he said.

Eliminating these fees won’t put a major dent in the county’s budget, officials say.

Larson said the county collected about $8,000 in administrative stormwater fees last year.

“It’s not a lot,” he said. “...We feel comfortable that we can absorb this loss of revenue with (increasing stormwater utility) rates.”

The Natural Resources Committee recommended approval of the stormwater ordinance change.

The issue likely will be introduced to the full County Council next month.

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