Horry County chairman challenges county to do more to collect from vacation rental property owners

08/18/2013 12:00 AM

08/17/2013 11:26 AM

Offices of the Horry County auditor and treasurer have collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in property, hospitality and accommodations tax from vacation rental property owners over the years, but Council Chairman Mark Lazarus challenged both offices last week to do more as he believes the county is missing out on millions of dollars.

The auditor’s office has created more than 350 new rental accounts this year from people who rent their property out but previously were not paying taxes on the property’s contents, such as furniture, or were not paying the taxes on the property as a rental property, which is higher than an owner-occupied home.

“I think that continues to be a big problem for this county,” said Glenn Hardee, supervisor for the Horry County Auditor’s Office. Hardee said the result of the newfound properties has netted about $30,000 in back taxes – about half of which has already been collected. Hardee said the county scours websites where people list their rental properties and search based on what is advertised on the listing. But the challenge comes when the owner puts a limited amount of information in the listing.

“A lot of them are on to the fact that we’re on to them and they’re putting fewer and fewer things on these listings that identify them,” Hardee said. “It’s difficult identifying these [vacation rentals by owner].”

Horry County Chairman Mark Lazarus commended the efforts of the auditor’s office and said maybe a ground attack would be a new attempt at finding these properties.

“A lot of people have signs in their yards. It’s a lot of effort, I know, but I’m telling you it’s millions of dollars,” Lazarus said. “Millions of dollars and I’ve got people calling me everyday who are in the business who pay their taxes like they are supposed to, they are very upset.”

Like Councilman Harold Worley who owns vacation rental property himself and know of eight rental properties in one building that he believes is not paying the proper taxes.

“I write a check for $50,000 a month and these clowns don’t write a nickel? Come on,” Worley said at a recent county administration committee meeting.

Lazarus knows of other property owners who share in Worley’s frustration.

“He’s just one of many paying big dollars and we’ve got to put every effort we can to try and formulate a plan to do more,” Lazarus said. “You all are doing great and I appreciate that, but we’ve got to do more. It’s millions of dollars tat we’re missing out on for the citizens of Horry County.”

Auditor Lois Eargle encouraged those who know of rental property owners who may not be paying the proper taxes to contact her office.

“What you all need to do, if you find something like that, let us know,” she said.

Lazarus was also concerned about whether the county was collecting the proper hospitality and accommodations taxes.

“That’s the big money,” he said. “The property tax is one issue, but the big issue is what’s happening for us not collecting the hospitality fees and accommodations tax dollars.”

Roddy Dickinson, treasurer for Horry County, said more than 680 new accounts have been discovered for rental property owners since 2002, which has generated about $700,000 in hospitality and accommodation taxes.

“This is a very slow and tedious process,” Dickinson said. “You’ve got to consider who we’re dealing with here. These are people who do not live here... Patience and perseverance are the best answers for this. We work on this everyday. We’ve got a person assigned to it. It’s difficult to put [the properties] on and it’s even more difficult to get money out of them.

“We do what we can. A lot of this is based on the goodness of these people to do the right thing.”

Lazarus insisted the county can do more.

“I challenge you, let’s do more,” he said. “If there’s something from County Council we can do to help you, we’ve given you personnel, if there’s other things we can do to help, please let us know. This is serious and it’s not right for the ones that are paying.”

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