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County audit aims to uncover home exemption errors

Posted: August 21, 2012 6:12 p.m.
Updated: August 22, 2012 5:00 a.m.

The Kershaw County Assessor’s Office has mailed approximately 200 notices to county residents listed as having multiple homeowner tax exemptions.

According to Kershaw County Administrator Vic Carpenter, the letters were sent out as part of an auditing effort to determine if there were any errors in the county’s property tax records.

“We have an obligation every now and then to check and make sure everything we have in our records is accurate,” Carpenter said.

In November, Kershaw County Council recommended the county move forward with the audit and unanimously approved a contract with Tax Management Associations (TMA) to assist in determining inconsistencies in the tax records.

Kershaw County Assessor Randy Roberts said that the company and the county combed through the previous three years of tax files. He said the county provided TMA with a list of county homeowners to help find people that have primary residencies in other counties or states, but also have the same designation in Kershaw County.

State law provides for a special 4 percent property assessment ratio on primary residences. To qualify for the assessment ratio, the owner must have actually owned and occupied the residence as his or her legal residence and lived at the address for some period during the applicable tax year.

While primary residences are assessed at 4 percent, other living accommodations -- such as secondary homes or rental properties -- are assessed at 6 percent.

Roberts said that individuals can appeal any bills received as a result of the audit, but noted the deadline to do so is September 10.

“If you think a mistake was made, come and talk with us. We’ll be glad to talk about it on a case by case basis,” he said.

Roberts noted that TMA cast a fairly “wide net” when initially investigating potential errors. The number of homeowners listing multiple primary residences was actually culled down from about 500 to 200 after the county followed up on TMA’s preliminary search.

“We would know things that they necessarily wouldn’t know. For example, if somebody had a recorded a contract of sale,” Roberts said.

He said the county is also considering extending the payment deadline by approximately 60 days, but a time frame has not been fully settled.

TMA Sales and Marketing Representative Brian Fawcett said the company used extensive public records to determine any inconsistencies.

“We take the list of exemptions and run it against a public records database known as Lexis Nexus that, basically, pulls data from about 30,000 different resources. We’re able to identify various specific information that allows us to pinpoint back where somebody lives or if they have multiple exemptions across the country,” Fawcett said. “We basically compile all the data, put together a case, and present it to the assessor.

Fawcett indicated the company’s goal is to help counties administer the correct level of taxes.

“We’re just trying to make sure everybody is paying their fair share, not a penny less, not a penny more,” he said. “So that way, if you have four or five homes in a neighborhood and one is not paying their taxes, you don’t have the other four being upset because they’re paying more than they should be.”

The assessor’s office is located at the Kershaw County Government Center, 515 Walnut St., Camden, and can be reached at 425-1523.

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