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More than 2,500 people paid about $3.35 million in delinquent property taxes during a two-week amnesty covering late fees, figures from the Beaufort County Treasurer's Office indicate.
"It far exceeded my expectations," Treasurer Doug Henderson said. "We're just real pleased."
The amnesty still required residents to pay their back taxes in full, including any interest levied. However, Henderson agreed to waive the Treasury's $75 or $125 late fee for anyone who paid between Aug. 22 and Sept. 2.
Near the end of the amnesty period, the line at the Treasurer's Office snaked out the door and around the corner, and Henderson said his employees were working frantically to keep up.
According to a final tally completed Thursday, the amnesty resulted in 2,473 payments to 2,237 accounts, some with late taxes dating as far back as 2003.
Most of the payments, though, weren't that overdue.
Deputy Treasurer Troy Hodges said 2010 taxes accounted for about $3.2 million of the total.
About $2.9 million of the taxes paid were on real estate.
About $250,000 worth of late fees were waived.
Late fees are used to cover the cost of pursuing delinquent taxes. Because property on paid accounts will no longer be advertised in the newspaper or auctioned off at tax sale, some of the waived amount will be recovered as savings.
"It's going to reduce our expenses significantly," Henderson said. "We're not going to offset all the fees we waived by the money we saved, but I think it was a successful program."
Officials say there will be intangible benefits, too.
Clearing years-old debt off the county's books will help staff focus on more recent accounts. And giving residents a fresh start might encourage them to pay on time in the future.
Hodges said after examining the figures that he considers the amnesty a resounding success.
"When I saw those numbers, I just beamed," he said. "We gave up a little, but we sure gained a lot."
Follow reporter Kyle Peterson at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.