South Carolina County Government Must Give Taxpayers a Hearing on Property Tax Penalty Where the Taxpayer Raises County Error

If South Carolina property taxes are not timely paid, the county Assessor must assess a late-payment penalty. However, the county Treasurer is given authority to waive an assessed late payment penalty if a taxpayer can actually show the property taxes were timely paid. This late-payment waiver by the county Treasurer is discretionary, and generally not subject to appeal; however, if a taxpayer alleges error by the county in its assessment of a late-payment penalty, the taxpayer is then entitled to an administrative hearing through a county committee, consisting of the county Treasurer, Auditor, and Assessor. If this committee then issues an adverse decision to the taxpayer, the taxpayer is then entitled to a further hearing before the applicable county Board of Assessment Appeals, and, if the county Board of Assessment Appeals then issues a decision adverse to the taxpayer, the taxpayer may then file suit against the county with the South Carolina Administrative Law Court. A recent decision issued by the Administrative Law Court reviews and reaffirms this statutory appeals procedure for taxpayers who make property tax payments to a county, and where a county proposes a late-payment penalty.

In Antonio Audit v. Horry County Assessor, Docket No. 17-ALJ-17-0098-CC (May 17, 2017), the taxpayer apparently made a property tax payment to the Horry County through a credit card, but through a mistake by the credit card company, was not timely processed. The Horry County Assessor assessed a late payment penalty, and the taxpayer sought waiver/abatement of the penalty with the Horry County committee, consisting of its Treasurer, Auditor, and Assessor. The committee denied the taxpayer's request, and the taxpayer requested further review by the county, which was denied. The taxpayer then filed suit with the Administrative Law Court.

In the Administrative Law Court proceedings, Horry County filed a motion to dismiss the case, arguing that the taxpayer had no right of appeal from a decision of the committee on the taxpayer's late-payment penalty. The Administrative Law Court not only denied Horry County's motion to dismiss, but also remanded the case to the committee for further proceedings. The Administrative Law Court ruled that the taxpayer had the right to appeal the decision of the committee to the Board of Assessment Appeals, and, because he was never given this opportunity by Horry County, the Administrative Law Court dismissed the case and also specifically ordered that the case be remanded to the Horry County Board of Assessment Appeals for a hearing. If the Board of Assessment Appeals then issues an adverse decision to the taxpayer, the taxpayer has the full right to file a contested case hearing with the Administrative Law Court.

Taxpayers who believe they have paid their county property taxes on time, but receive a late-payment penalty notice from their county, need to be aware of their rights in order to contest the penalty.

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