By Representative Bill Sandifer, SC House of Representatives
Today, most of us should be preparing for Christmas and enjoying the holiday season. That has become almost impossible for many people in Oconee County because of their concerns about their property taxes.
Over the last few months, I have answered hundreds of calls, letters, and e–mails about this subject. hi addition, I am stopped by citizens everywhere I go, all over the county. I find one common denominator in all of these communications – anger. I have lived in Oconee County for nearly fifty years and I have never before sensed a level of anger that I do now.
I have talked with older folks who rightfully fear that they may lose their homes because of an inability to pay a greatly increased property tax. I have talked with young home owners who did not budget for these increases and are concerned about their children’s well being. I have also talked with people who are new to the area and are shocked by the callousness of the manner in which this matter has been handled.
Maybe all of these people are right. Maybe most of us should be angry.
Actually, the South Carolina Department of Revenue rescinded its approval of Oconee County’s Reassessment Program. Subsequently, and after examining the records, the Department granted its approval. But, in doing so, the Director expressed his significant concerns. I have a copy of the Department’s 26 page report and it certainly causes me grave concern.
All citizens should be treated alike, no matter what their position. The people I have heard from have all had significant increases in their assessments, ranging from 25% to over 1000%. However, that same situation does not apply to the County Tax Assessor. He bought a home in October, 2005. VAen it was assessed in 2006, it was assessed at only approximately 84% of what he paid for it less than a year before. I cannot believe that it went down in value by 16% in less than a year. Maybe there is no wrong doing. But, there sure is an appearance of it. I strongly encourage County Council to determine how this happened and whether remedial action should be taken.
During these months of discussion, it seems that the County Administrator, as well as the County Assessor, constantly blame everything on the state government and especially the Legislative Delegation. As I mentioned earlier, there is a possible explanation for why the Assessor wants to place blame. As to the County Administrator, there are probably two explanations.
First, he does not vote in Oconee County. And, second, he is not affected by the Oconee County reassessment. His residence and his property are not in Oconee County. They are in Pickens County. He simply does not have a vested interest in what happens in OUR county. I don’t want to insinuate that he is a bad person. I simply want our citizens to understand the situation.
The last thing I want to address is the idea of increasing the Homestead Exemption. I find it interesting that members of the County Council started pushing for the idea of doubling the Homestead Exemption after citizens began complaining vehemently about increased taxes. There are two important facts that appear to have been omitted. First, the legislature more than doubled the Homestead Exemption in 2001. The second, and more important point is that the state reimburses the county for the amount of tax not collected because of the Homestead Exemption. Therefore,what the county is asking is that the state government subsidize county operations so that it appears that county taxes have decreased. It is my sincere belief that the proposed one percent increase for county infrastructure would have passed in the referendum if the citizens of Oconee County trusted county government.