SC, DOR lax in auto tax bills : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

A state audit report says poor management in the state Department of Revenue caused nearly 300,000 vehicle owners to be overtaxed this year. Outdated data entry, poor employee supervision and the absence of written policies and procedures resulted in the state Department of Revenue giving the wrong vehicle values to county auditors. The auditors use those values to calculate tax bills.

The Revenue Department also neglected to put in place a system of counter checks in developing its errant 1999 vehicle assessment guides, the report released Tuesday stated, and failed to use a $50 computer check that was available.

That one computer check might have squelched nearly 4,000 incorrect light-truck valuations from being used in all 46 counties from January to March 2000.

The vehicle assessment guides were prepared in 1999 for use on vehicle tax bills in 2000.

"As a general comment, we find the report to be fair and balanced," said Elizabeth Carpentier, DOR director.

"We at DOR apologize to the public for the errors and expense we have caused."

The report was issued by the S.C. Legislative Audit Council after the General Assembly ordered a review of the Revenue Department's role in establishing personal property taxes on vehicles.

The Revenue Department publishes vehicle assessment guides used by counties to figure individual tax bills on cars, light trucks, and medium and heavy trucks.

The formula to figure a vehicle tax bill begins with the fair market value of a vehicle. DOR normally sets fair market value as the loan value of a car.

In the faulty 1999 assessment guides, DOR used the normally higher retail value of vehicles instead.

The loan value is normally less than the retail value because most lenders won't finance 100 percent of a vehicle's purchase price.

"We found that the vehicle assessment guides for cars and trucks in 1999 contained a significant number of incorrect values, most of which resulted in an individual's property tax bill being higher than it should have been," the report states.

Approximately 3 million vehicles are registered in South Carolina. The audit found that at least 9,100 of 24,000 valuations the Revenue Department calculated were incorrect.

The department annually determines how much each car model is worth, from a 1980 Honda Civic to a 2000 Chevrolet Corvette.

The report said it could not determine the number of taxpayer bills affected by the errors. However, the department estimated in April that more than 300,000 taxpayers in the state got incorrect bills.

"It was a doggone big problem," said Lexington County Auditor Art Guerry, who was one of the Revenue Department's biggest critics after the incorrect valuations surfaced.

"The DOR probably doesn't like me, but this put a double workload on my people," Guerry said.

He said between 17,000 and 18,000 Lexington County taxpayers will get refunds as a result of the incorrect bills.

DOR offered counties $1 for each refund it handled to help offset costs. The agency expects to spend $310,844 in that effort, but the Legislature might modify that amount.

Guerry said DOR has improved considerably since faulty valuations came to light. Counties are getting numbers quicker now, he said, and the numbers are correct.

Cecil Stevens, Lee County auditor, said DOR was very cooperative with counties after the bad information was distributed.

"It was just a little inconvenience," he said, adding, "We were astonished we had so few calls about it."

Lee County has 13,000 vehicles registered, he said.

The audit report outlined sweeping problems in the Revenue Department, and several employees were disciplined or demoted after the errors were discovered.

The report said counties complained to DOR early on about the bad figures, but the department ignored the complaints.

"It appears to me they had a personnel problem over there," said Rep. Rex Rice, R-Greenville, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Rice is also an ex-officio member of the Legislative Audit Council.

"Supervisors that should have been there were not, and they may not be using the most efficient equipment," he said.

Individuals may contest their county personal property tax bills by contacting their county auditor's office.

-- Doris (, May 24, 2000


Thank you for the post Doris!

-- (, May 24, 2000.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ