Originally created 06/28/01

Aiken County cracks down on vehicle fees



Aiken County is hoping that a new drive aimed at people who dodge vehicle taxes and car registration will bring hundreds of thousands of dollars into the county coffers.

County Auditor Cyrus Spradley and Treasurer Linda Sharpe said they will use every available method to collect money due by enforcing an existing law and using a new one.

They will pursue violators - even if it means sending out warrants and suspending licenses until fees are paid.

Mr. Spradley estimated that 2,000 to 3,000 vehicles of the 113,000 in Aiken County are not registered. That includes cars registered in other states.

"This could bring in as much as $300,000 yearly," he said. "We're going to be using a law that has not been strictly enforced in the past."

The county will now enforce a state law, section 56-3-160, that says people who move to South Carolina "for the purpose of engaging in any business, profession or employment" must register their vehicles in the state immediately.

The law has been on the books, but now it will be actively enforced.

"I am looking for a lot of public support," Mr. Spradley said. "Other individuals are taxpayers, and they are paying their fair share. These people that are not paying their taxes are depending on those that do to pick up the slack and pay for the services that they are using."

People need to act soon - within the next two weeks.

"Come in, present us information on the vehicle, and we will begin from that date forward. There will be no back taxes," Mr. Spradley said."But if we have to go out and catch these people, then there will be penalties."

A law went into effect June 7 that will restore the authority of the county treasurer to suspend, through the Department of Motor Vehicles, the driver's licenses of those who do not pay the county tax on vehicles purchased from dealers.

"When someone purchases a car from a dealer, that is the only time that they will get a license plate without paying property tax first," Ms. Sharpe said.

The buyer has 120 days to pay the property tax on the car. In the past, the buyer would be billed.

If the bill was ignored, the county treasurer had "no teeth" to go after that person.

The new law gives Ms. Sharpe the ability to seek out people who don't pay the taxes in a timely fashion.

She said officials will write people who are delinquent a 30-day letter, giving them an opportunity to come in and pay during that time.

"If we suggest then for DMV to suspend your driver's license, they will then write you a letter. If you don't surrender your driver's license or come in and pay those property taxes, then your license will be suspended until you pay," Ms. Sharpe said.

Reach Sara Bancroft at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.