Monday, October 19, 2009

The property reassessment process is anything but easy here

Bluffton Today

We have gotten a fair number of calls and emails on the reassessment notices that have recently arrived in the mailboxes of Beaufort County property owners.

While we are always happy to offer information and assistance to constituents, this is primarily a county matter.

Reassessment is mandated by the South Carolina Code of Laws. It calls for a reappraisal and adjustment of valuation of all real property in each county every five years.

Ideally, it should reflect changes in the current market value of each property to insure fairness in the taxation process.

If we lived in an area where property values were fairly stable, the reassessment process would be easy, and there would not be that many surprises when we open that letter from the county. Unfortunately, parts of Beaufort County have seen some very wild swings in valuation in the last few years. This adds a measure of complexity to the process.

Adding somewhat to an already complex situation is Property Tax Reform Act 388. This law was a response to the escalating valuations, especially during the real estate bubble, where some folks saw their assessments double or triple over a five-year reassessment period.

Act 388, among other things, limits the increase in the valuation of a property to 15% of the last reassessment, unless the property has been improved, transferred or sold.

As you might imagine, this has led to some big discrepancies in the taxation on similar houses in the same neighborhood. It also has served as something of a brake on home sales, especially concerning to my friends in the real estate business.

While Act 388 is up for review in the next session, and will most likely be extensively worked over, for today your reassessment is capped at 15% if you meet the criteria. If not, you may want to get in touch with the county assessor’s office for a more detailed explanation, including how you may appeal your reassessment.

For general information, the best place to start is the county website, www.bcgov.net.

You can also get up with County Assessor Ed Hughes at P.O. Box 1508, Beaufort, SC 29901-1508. His phone is: 470-2522 and fax is 470-2512. The Bluffton office is located at 4819 Bluffton Parkway, in the Myrtle Park Building, room 220. The phone there is 757-1500, extension 236, and the fax is 757-1046. The Hilton Head office is located at 539 William Hilton Parkway, room 106. The phone there is 341-8411, and the fax is 341-2811.

Yesterday was the big kick-off for the Historic Bluffton Arts and Seafood Festival. There was a great boat parade and a gospel sing, with everyone having a fantastic time.

The event runs every day through next Sunday. For all the information, go to: www.blufftonartsandseafoodfestival.com. For example, today there is a “lunch and learn” event at the Waddell Mariculture Center in Greater Bluffton. My pal, Al Stokes, will lead a tour of the world-class facility at 10 this morning, which will be followed by a Bluffton Oyster Company seafood buffet (also world-class) on the grounds overlooking the Colleton River at Victoria Bluff. Call 815-6278 for a reservation.

Every day there is something equally cool and interesting going on, culminating Saturday and Sunday with the art fair on and around beautiful Calhoun St.

Friends, this is the real deal. It is Bluffton’s week to share its culture, its gorgeous natural landscape, and its inimitable quirky spirit. I wouldn’t miss it for anything.