Story provided by our news partners, My Horry News.
HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - A day after Ethan Leyshon put his Carolina Forest condo on the market, the 31-year-old found out he'd be getting nearly $200 to help with his move to Texas.
"Oh, wow," the golf instructor said Friday when he learned he is one of more than 1,000 Horry County taxpayers due a refund from the treasurer. "It's a Christmas bonus."
The treasurer's office provided a list of those eligible for a refund to myhorrynews.com with the hope that publishing it would allow those people to collect their money in time to help with holiday expenses. The list is attached to this story along with a form that those due a refund can fill out and mail to the treasurer's office. The office will verify that the person seeking the money is eligible for the refund and, if everything checks out, the staff will issue a check.
"I want to get this money back to our citizens, especially at Christmas," treasurer Angie Jones said. "They've waited long enough. There's people on here from 2014, almost four years. It's ridiculous. If I have to sit there and reissue checks my own self, that's what we'll have to do."
Jones' office spent more than four months sorting through records from the tax years 2014-2016 to compile the list, which ranges people owed a few dollars to those in line to collect thousands. The total amount of money owed to taxpayers is over $345,000.
Some simply paid more taxes than they were required to. In other cases, mortgage companies overpaid. Many of those on the list are people like Leyshon, who initially paid the tax rate for a second home rather than a lower rate for a primary residence.
In South Carolina, taxes on owner-occupied homes are based on 4 percent of their fair market value, while taxes on second homes and investment properties are calculated with a 6 percent rate.
"When people are paying 6 percent and they go to apply for their primary residence … the bill is lowered," Jones said. "We would apply it to the bill and then they are due a refund."
Jones stressed that no third-party vendors will be allowed to collect any money from the treasurer's office. She said some companies take lists like this one and contact the individuals on it, offering to collect their money for them in exchange for a percentage of the check. Jones said that can't happen with the county's refunds.
"So if somebody reaches out to them, they will know," she said. "The check cannot be issued in any other name other than what's on that list. Even if they're deceased, it will be made out to the estate. … All [the relatives] have to do is present the paperwork from probate and the bank will cash it. But we cannot change the names on checks at all."
Since early August, the list has been the project of Melanie Huggins-Ward, the county's former clerk of court who agreed to work on the research for Jones.
She started with a pile of returned refund checks. Huggins-Ward sorted them, organizing the records by year, month and check number. Then she created a spreadsheet for her data.
"It took a little bit of time to get it to the point where I could even make the list," she said. "All of the checks were just thrown in a box. They weren't in any kind of order."
Her original total was 1,089 checks for the tax years 2014, 2015 and 2016. However, she's crossed a few names off the list because she recognized the names, contacted the taxpayers and reissued those checks. She also Googled the names of businesses on the list and called the offices to say the county had refunds waiting on them. Older refunds were turned over to state officials for processing.
or Huggins-Ward, who has worked in county government for more than 30 years, the process has been rewarding, especially seeing the reactions of people who find out they are getting an unexpected check.
One retiree she spoke to in North Myrtle Beach had moved to the area with her husband and had finally declared their local home as their primary residence.
Huggins-Ward said the woman spoke to someone at the treasurer's office last year who informed her that she'd be getting a refund, but the woman just assumed it hadn't arrived yet.
"I don't think it takes a year to get it back," Huggins-Ward told her.
When she investigated the situation, Huggins-Ward found the check had been returned. It had not been sent to the family's mailing address.
"She was tickled to death when I told her I had her a check for $4,000," she said. "It just makes me feel good when you make people feel good like that. That's what it's all about. It's a Christmas feeling there."
Contact Charles D. Perry at 843-488-7236