August 19, 2013

Horry County auditor’s office begins crackdown on out-of-state license plates

As school season starts, auditor notifies public of permanent and long-term resident laws for license plates.

The Horry County Auditor’s office has a message for new residents of the county: Welcome, and be sure to register your vehicle if you plan to stay here 150 days or more.

Right now is the season when field investigators begin working diligently to seek out-of-state license plates and contact registered owners to notify them of South Carolina laws when it comes to registering a vehicle or paying the taxes if a person stays in Horry County 150 accumulative days or more.

Most of the letters sent to vehicle owners last year were sent during the September through May period, which reached 675. It’s no coincidence it falls during the peak school season for Coastal Carolina University, Horry-Georgetown Technical College and new residents moving to Horry County Schools.

Funds collected from license plate registrations, which topped more than $78,000 last year, goes to the county’s general fund and helps fund schools, as well, said Auditor Lois Eargle.

“One thing that irritates the citizens who are dropping their children off at school, they pay their taxes and they’re riding around on South Carolina tags, and they see someone who is dropping their children off with out-of-state tags,” Eargle said. “One of the things that they have to realize is that the majority of the taxes that are collected are going to Horry County schools. So when they’re out there and they don’t register their car, and whenever they’re dropping their kids off, it seems to me like they’re stealing from the schools. Not only that, but you need to abide by the law.”

The auditor’s office also receives lists from all schools of local addresses for people who indicate they have a vehicle registered from a different state. That’s when the office sends out 45-day notices to those who are making Horry County their home, said Toby Clardy, field inspector with the auditor’s office.

“We really want to emphasize that we’re going to be at the schools hard this year trying to catch every one of the out-of-state individuals that are going to be here,” he said. “They need to pay their fair share of taxes as well.”

Now the law is different for those paying out-of-state tuition.

“If they provide us with information that they are paying out-of-state tuition, we can’t make them change their tag,” Clardy said.

Clardy and fellow investigator Stephen Thompson will also roam neighborhoods, condominium complexes and more to flag out-of-state plates. If people are not making Horry County their home, but stay here for more than 150 days, Thompson said there’s an easy rule of thumb.

“You don’t have to change that plate, but you do have to pay taxes to the state,” he said.

The process, which Clardy said started in 2005, is simple: The auditor’s office sends out a letter informing the owner of the law and if there is no response, then a warrant letter is sent to the owner.

“After they don’t respond to the warrant letter, then we will go take pictures of the car and an officer will go out,” he said.

The auditor has offices in Conway, Myrtle Beach, Little River and Surfside Beach – all locations where new residents or those spending a substantial amount of time in Horry County can go to get new tags or pay taxes. Eargle said her office also relies heavily on the public to keep an eye out for out-of-state tags.

“Most of the time, people will call in and say... I know they’ve been here more than 150 days,” she said. “We depend a lot on the public to let us know these things and they do.”

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