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County will move forward with reassessment

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Waccamaw Neck property owners anxious about the possibility of a delay in reassessment can rest easy.

Georgetown County will move ahead as scheduled with the process this year, County Administrator Sel Hemingway said this week.

“In talking with other jurisdictions going through this process, we don’t think it’s going to have the negative impact we were expecting,” he said.

In May, Hemingway warned County Council members they might need to delay reassessment until next year because moving forward was projected to cost the county $1.6 million a year in property tax revenue. It would have had to find a way to absorb that deficit, beginning with its 2011 budget.

The problem was the result of a combination of the reassessment formula and Act 388, property tax reform legislation that took effect in 2007 and would have prevented the county from raising millage enough to make up for the loss and keep reassessment revenue neutral.

Council and the S.C. Association of Counties lobbied state lawmakers to take legislative action that would have solved the problem, but none was taken before the legislative session ended last week.

Hemingway said the issue remains on the association’s agenda and he is confident it will be pursued next year “as it removes any uncertainty in the calculation process.”

In the mean time, while neither the formula nor the tax cap has changed, projections on how reassessment will impact the county financially have, and with it Hemingway’s recommendation to delay.

“We erred,” Council Member Austin Beard said, summing up the situation.

In looking at the projections more closely, Hemingway said he still expects a loss in tax revenue, but not a significant one. He isn’t sure how much the loss might be, but he’s confident it’s one the county will be able to manage.

That’s good news for Waccamaw Neck homeowners who are hopeful reassessment will bring lower property tax bills.

Pawleys Island Mayor Bill Otis said he was glad to hear the county plans to proceed. Pawleys Island Town Council discussed the possibility of a delay at its last meeting and agreed to discourage County Council from that path.

“I think moving ahead is the right thing to do,” Otis said. “It will be interesting to see if the reassessment carries what we all believe to be the full impact of the reduction in property values along the coast. The reduction has been significant, probably in the range of 30 percent or more.”

When reassessment last took place in 2006, some oceanfront property owners saw tax bills increase significantly along with their property values. However, owner-occupied homes got a break in school taxes.

Hemingway said residents will have to wait a while longer to find out if reassessment will provide the relief they’re hoping for this year. The county is on schedule to mail assessment notices in early July. After that, there will be 90 days open for appeals.

Hemingway said appeals could have “a drastic effect” on what property owners will see on their tax bills.

The county will calculate new millage rates in October and send out tax bills then.

Budget passes | County Council members gave final reading to a $61.2 million budget.

The budget includes a shortfall of more than $500,000 that will come from the county’s reserve fund.

Included in the budget are a $3 million fund for Midway Fire and Rescue, $10.6 million for law enforcement, $1.7 million for road improvements and $5.1 million for environmental services.

Library board | Jean Cross, a past president of the Friends of the Waccamaw Library, has been appointed to the county’s library board.

The DeBordieu resident will fill the seat recently vacated by board chairwoman Sandy Gresham.

Cross also heads the Friends’ capital campaign committee, which is working to raise money to build a new Waccamaw Library in Litchfield.

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