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An estimated 8,000 people in Beaufort County who haven't paid outstanding property taxes could get a break on late fees.
Treasurer Doug Henderson announced Tuesday a two-week amnesty program in which late fees will be forgiven, though property owners will still have to pay any interest levied on their back taxes.
To take advantage of the one-time clemency, outstanding taxes must be paid in full between Aug. 22 and Sept. 2. Forgiveness will be extended to late fees on real estate, boats, mobile homes -- any property except cars, which are taxed by the S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles.
"We will be turning debt into revenue for the county," Henderson said.
Property taxes are due Jan 15. The county charges a $75 late fee for those that go unpaid as of April 1 and tacks on $50 on Sept. 1. Penalties go into a fund used to cover the costs of pursuing delinquent taxes.
Deputy treasurer and delinquent-tax collector Troy Hodges said residents with tight finances often want to pay their late taxes but cannot afford the late fees. In some instances, the penalties on a piece of property -- an old boat, for example -- can be higher than the outstanding taxes.
Waiving a resident's late fees won't hurt the county's bottom line, Henderson said, because the fees aren't counted as general county revenue. In addition, his office won't have to spend money to prepare and advertise that property for the tax sale.
If residents with years-old debts take advantage of the program, it will also help clean out the county's books, Hodges said. Staff can then focus on more recent accounts.
Or at least that's the hope.
"Since this has never been tried before, we don't know what the total effects will be yet," Henderson said.
Henderson has stated he wants to improve customer service in the Treasurer's Office.
Since taking office July 1, he has reorganized the department, fired seven employees and hired two new deputies, including Hodges.
"The reason we came up with this program is that I asked these people to start thinking outside the box," he said.
Follow reporter Kyle Peterson at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.