Computer error brings refunds : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Error in car values could bring refunds to some By DOUG IRVING Special to The Gazette

(Published February 10, 2000)

Beaufort County expects to owe some car tax refunds because of scattered mistakes in the state's list of vehicle values.

The errors likely affected only a fraction of this year's taxpayers, and not by much, said Vicki Ringer, a spokeswoman with the state Department of Revenue. The department is still trying to determine which vehicle models, makes and years had incorrect assessment values.

The county started using the book with incorrect values in January, Auditor Sharon Burris said on Wednesday. It switched over to a corrected book of values this week, but it had already sent out about 25,000 car-tax bills due through March based on the state's flawed values. It also may have overcharged new car-tax payers until this week.

"If the person feels like they were overcharged, they need to call my office," Burris said. "I would imagine they'll get a lot of busy signals, because I would imagine we'll be getting lots of calls.

But Ringer cautioned that the state probably overvalued fewer than a hundred vehicle types, out of an assessment book several inches thick.

Each year, the state lists the value of every year of every vehicle model and make. Counties use those lists to compute their annual property tax on vehicles, Ringer said. And each year, the value of every vehicle must fall by at least 5 percent to take into account its depreciated value.

A computer calculated last year's value minus 5 percent, then compared it to this year's market value for each car, she said. It was supposed to apply the cheapest value, but didn't in a few cases - overvaluing those vehicles.

But the actual overpayment because of those mistakes should be small, Ringer said.

"I don't mean to belittle that - $25 is a nice dinner out," she said. "But I don't want people to be alarmed that they've lost hundreds of dollars."

The Department of Revenue uncovered the miscalculations a few weeks ago, Ringer said, but held off on alerting taxpayers until it could get together a list of affected vehicles. It should know by the end of the week when that list will be ready. County auditors are required by law to use the state guide when calculating car taxes.

After it decides which models, makes and years were overvalued, it will work with counties to determine which taxpayers already paid bills on those vehicle types. But Burris said that could mean headaches for the county.

The county's computers won't be able to list who paid what on which vehicle, she said. County staff will either have to go through the tax records by hand, she said, or wait for overcharged taxpayers to call.

"Our system is not set up where we can say, Give us all the Hondas, give us all the 96 cars," Burris said. "It would almost be imperative for the taxpayer to call us.

"Taxpayers are pretty trusting people. Unfortunately, whatever we send out to them, they pay it,1458,133895,00.html

-- Martin Thompson (, February 10, 2000

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