LOCAL GOVERNMENT CONCEDES MILITARY BENEFIT, RELUCTANTLY
Clive is an officer in the U.S. military, and he lived in Columbia for several years. In 2013 he was deployed to a foreign country. His wife and children stayed in Columbia.
“If you’re military,” he tells us, “you get a special property tax rate. It’s not a huge break, but it’s something.”
But you have to apply to the county for the rate, and the deadline, adjusted by the county, is August 15. He missed the deadline, and so he didn’t get the lower rate.
“Clearly, though,” says Clive, “if you’re deployed overseas when the deadline passes, an exception ought to be made. And in fact the law says that, explicitly.”
He shows us the law code: “Failure to file within the prescribed time constitutes abandonment of the owner’s right for this classification for the current year, but the local taxing authority may extend the time of filing upon a showing satisfactory to it that the person had reasonable cause for not filing before the first penalty date.”
“So in other words,” he explains, “the county can allow the filing extension if they want to. The law was passed in 2014, and it stipulates the deadline of May 15, but most counties moved it to August 15, and the law gives them the power to do that.”
Clive’s county – Richland – set its deadline at August 15. Clive was overseas long before August 15, and he returned a month past the deadline.
First, he couldn’t find anyone at the county level who even knew about the discretion to grant a waiver. Then, once he found someone, his request was flat-out denied.
He pointed out that both the IRS and the state Department of Revenue grant deployed military personnel a 180-day extension on filing taxes – that is, 180 days from the time of their return home.
“I told them that the spirit of the law allows them to move the deadline. I told them that the whole purpose of the IRS and DOR law is to allow military personnel to focus on their mission rather than worry about meeting various tax deadlines. But I got nowhere.”
The only response he got was an email: “There is nothing that our office can do in regards to this issue,” the email says, “because it is a county deadline.”
“I know it’s a county deadline!” Clive laughs. “I’m asking you to waive the deadline because I was in the Middle East for a year diffusing mines!”
But the county official’s email concluded with an interesting sentence: “I request that you contact the Richland County Legislative Delegation for further assistance.”
“Okay,” says Clive. “It sounds like they’re telling me to go over their heads and get state lawmakers involved.”
So that’s what he did. Clive contacted two state lawmakers, members of the Richland County delegation, and told them his problem. And without pursuing the matter any further, the problem was solved. The county granted the extension, and Clive applied for and received the military rate on his property tax.
“I don’t know who said what, or what phone calls or emails were exchanged,” he says, “but as soon as those legislators got involved, the county totally conceded the point.”
The moral of the story? “In South Carolina, members of the General Assembly are all-powerful. I think a lot of local officials won’t lift a finger for you. But get a lawmaker involved, and they’ll hop to it.”