Originally published in THE BLUFFTON SUN September 27, 2019 - pg. 26A
By Lynne Cope Hummell
Beaufort County property owners who are behind on property taxes might want to try hard to get that late bill paid before 5 p.m. Oct. 4.
After that, the property will go on the auction block for the annual Delinquent Tax Sale, slated for 8 a.m. Oct 7 at Buckwalter Recreation Center, 905 Buckwalter Parkway in Bluffton.
A special section with a list of properties at risk is inside this issue of The Bluffton Sun.
As the date for the annual auction approaches, Treasurer Maria Walls wants to assure owners of those delinquent properties that “all is not lost.”
Even if a property sells at auction, the taxpayer has one year and one day to redeem their property – but it’s best not to wait that long. “I always tell people to forget the ‘one day’ part. No one should wait until the last minute if they can avoid it,” she said.
All the person must do is pay the back taxes to the county, and interest to the winning bidder.
Walls and her team have streamlined the process over the years and hope to continue reducing the number of properties that end up on the auction block. In 2014, 808 properties were auctioned, and 552 parcels were sold to the highest bidders. In 2018, just 449 properties were on the list, with 343 parcels sold.
Walls said she hopes that the number of properties at auction will continue to decline.
One easy way for property owners to keep up with their tax bills and payments is to sign up for e-billing at MyBeaufortCounty. “It is an online, one-stop shop to manage all of your tax bills and payments,” Walls said. “You can receive your tax bill by email or through the app, pay securely in just a few clicks, and receive your receipt on the spot. The best part is that when you have an account, all of your previous tax bills and receipts are saved for you if you ever need them and if you forget to pay, we will send you multiple reminders leading up to the payment due date.”
Walls said she and her team empathize with the delinquent property owners, and want everyone to have the best information possible so they can avoid the situation altogether.
“We understand that this can be a terrible process to go through and we are here to help them in any way we can,” she said.“
Some people think the county makes a lot of money on the auction, but Walls said that is definitely not the case. “When we auction a property and the winning bid amount is more than the taxes due, the excess (also called overage money) is NOT the County’s money, it is the delinquent property owner’s money,” she said. “No matter how high the winning bid is, the only thing the County gets is the taxes paid.”
The overage, meaning the amount paid above that owed for taxes, is held in escrow during the year-long redemption period. “If the delinquent property owner doesn’t redeem the property, they get the overage money,” Walls said. “All they have to do is request it from us.”
Walls warns of scammers who prey on unknowing property owners. Some, she said, will “try and get this overage money either entirely for themselves or by telling the property owner that there is a fee to claim it. … My team and I are free; we don’t want to see a penny of our taxpayer’s money going to one of these entities.”
For more information and to sign for e-billing, visit BeaufortCounty-Treasurer.com