Lancaster County working on fix for overcharged taxpayers

joverman@fortmilltimes.comNovember 1, 2012 

— A simple “cut and paste” error caused Indian Land residents to be overcharged $15 on their latest tax bills.

That problem is being resolved, said County Administrator Steve Willis. New tax bills are expected to be issued this week with the correct amount due, he said.

Panhandle residents’ tax bills included a $90 fire district fee. The correct fee for the fire district is $75.

“When the bills went out, the phones started ringing,” Willis said.

The error occurred because some Panhandle communities were previously charged $90 to be part of the fire district under early agreements with the Lancaster County Council, including Sun City Carolina Lakes and Belair. That fee was lowered recently when the Indian Land community approved a measure that set the fire district fee at $75 for all residents, not just those in selected communities.

The county budget’s line item for the fire district read $90, instead of $75, and for some reason was not changed to reflect the new fee.

“It was a cut and paste error,” said Willis. “I looked at the sheet and just flat missed it. It is a big old spreadsheet and that was just one little cell.”

Willis worked with the county auditor to determine the best way to correct the error. They found a “little known section of tax law,” Willis said, that allows the auditor to correct tax bills.

When the new tax bills are mailed this week, the erroneous tax bills will become invalid.

Anyone who has already paid their tax bill will receive a refund check from the county.

While most of the refunds will be $15, some will be more substantial. Residences are charged a $75 flat fee, but businesses and churches are charged based on their square footage.

It will cost the county $2,000 to correct the bills, Willis said, not including the additional postage for mailing new bills to approximately 6,000 homes and businesses. The cost will come from the county’s general fund.

The budget, which lists the fire district fee as $90, also has to be corrected. The council will have to make an official amendment to the budget, which requires three positive readings. That is expected to be taken care of in November, Willis said.

“We’re human. What can I tell you? There was only one person that walked the face of the earth that was perfect and the last time I looked we did not have a 2,000 year old Jewish carpenter on the county staff,” Willis said.

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