Not happy, to say the least, and extremely frustrated with the service and reception she’d gotten from the Chesterfield County Treasurer’s Office over the past couple of years, Mary Powe, a native of Chesterfield County in the Pageland area, decided to research South Carolina laws concerning payment plans for property taxes. What she discovered, she presented last week to the Chesterfield County Council, with a vengeance.
Chesterfield County Councilman Eddie Rivers attempted to apologize to Powe at last Wednesday’s meeting, for not being able to accommodate her request. Rivers hardly had time to finish his sentence before Powe quipped, “So, which one of you do I shoot first?” Her words were not menacing, but they were most accusatory.
“My request,” Powe told council, “is for all taxpayers in Chesterfield County to have the option of making installment payments on their taxes.”
Powe said the treasurer’s office had flatly denied her the opportunity to make payments, making her feel “like gum on the bottom of your shoe.”
Soon afterwards, Powe happened to talk with a friend who lives just outside of Columbia, S.C. Her friend, she said, had been allowed to make payments on property taxes in that county.
“Why can’t I?” Powe asked. And that’s when she began her research.
Rivers said he and other council members had asked the county’s treasurer about setting up installment plans before and the answer had always been no.
“How does a county treasurer have so much power and authority,” asked Powe, “to circumvent the law?”
The law, to which Powe provided a copy, is under the Code of Laws of South Carolina 1976 Annotated, Title 12. Taxation. Chapter 45. The first paragraph (A) (1) reads: “The governing body of a county may by ordinance allow each taxpayer owning a parcel of taxable real property within the county the option to pay property taxes in installments as provided in this section. An installment election is not allowed for taxes paid through an escrow account.”
Chesterfield County Treasurer Kathy Sheeler, who was not present at the council meeting nor informed of Powe’s complaint, tells basically the same story as Powe; only from a very different perspective. Sheeler said she is aware of the South Carolina statues, but changing them, or putting ordinances in place to comply with them, are not within her authority.
“That can only be done by a council approved ordinance,” said Sheeler. “And so far, council has not made an ordinance to allow me to offer an installment plan for property taxes.”
“Council has never approached me in an attempt to set up such ordinances,” said Sheeler. However, in 2008, at the request of a single council member, Sheeler said she was able to equip her office with the ability to accept payment for property taxes by credit card. “That, in effect, does allow citizens to make partial payments for property taxes; only they’re paying them to the credit card company.”
According to the law, ordinances created to allow partial payments directly to the county treasurer’s office must follow specific payment schedules. A portion of paragraph (B) from the South Carolina statues says: “An installment payment is based on the total property tax due for the previous property tax year, after applying all applicable credits and adjustments reflecting reduced value as determined by the county assessor. An amount equal to sixteen and two-thirds percent of the estimated property tax obligation must be paid to the county treasurer in each of five installments … .”
“I answer to the public,” said Sheeler. “Anyone who has a problem with my office, is invited to my office. I will try to resolve it with the utmost care. I work with council, not for council.”
The council had unanimously agreed that the matter would be looked into and that an answer would be forthcoming to Powe and the rest of Chesterfield County’s taxpayers.
— Staff Writer Karen Kissiah can be reached by calling 843-537-5261, or by email at email@example.com.