Tiny glitch causes major headaches for Brunswick Co. tax payers - WECT TV6-WECT.com:News, weather & sports Wilmington, NC

Tiny glitch causes major headaches for Brunswick Co. tax payers

Residents complain about lengthy delays getting refunds. Residents complain about lengthy delays getting refunds.
Mainland residents are being charged vehicle taxes for Bald Head Island. Mainland residents are being charged vehicle taxes for Bald Head Island.

Paying the taxes you owe is painful enough for most folks, but we found out that hundreds of Brunswick county residents are being charged more than they owe in car taxes.

Since November, at least 675 people who live on the Brunswick County mainland have been erroneously billed for Bald Head Island car taxes. We're told it's a Department of Motor Vehicles software glitch that's causing grief all over the state.

Lisa Propst lives on Bayshore Drive in Brunswick County's Sunset Harbor community. When she bought a car earlier this year, and went to have the tags transferred to her name, she was surprised to see she was charged for Bald Head Island taxes on her DMV receipt.

"I questioned it while I [was] there, ‘I don't live on Bald Head Island, why am I charged this tax?'" she told us, relaying her conversation with the DMV clerks.

Tax administrators tell us this glitch began in the fall when the state started collecting car taxes and license plate registration fees at the same time.

For simple license plate renewals, things usually go smoothly. But when people are issued new tags or have tags transferred, and DMV clerks have to hand key drivers' addresses into the system, there have been big problems.

"Almost every other customer, when we key in titles, has that Bald Head Island glitch," Long Beach Road DMV Title Clerk Manager Tiffani Siler told us. The other DMV office in Shallotte is having similar problems.

Amanda Hutcheson, a spokesperson for the Brunswick County Tax Office, says the state's computer software is very rigid when it comes to recognizing addresses.  "The discrepancy could be something like, if you live on Palm Street West, but…it's entered as West Palm Street, that can trigger a default."

The state requires each county to select a default tax jurisdiction if the computer doesn't recognize an address. Hutcheson tells us Brunswick County selected Bald Head Island because there are not many cars on the island, and tax collectors could more easily identify mistakes.

While it has helped in that regard, the tax rate on the resort island is much higher than any other Brunswick County town, and is resulting in inflated tax bills for affected drivers.

"A lot of them are irate," Siler tells us of customers' reactions to getting charged incorrectly. "Especially the ones who are bringing in newer cars, the newer cars sometimes are getting charged $300 for Bald Head."

DMV clerks can't tell if customers are being charged the Bald Head Island tax until the customer has paid and the receipt has printed. Customers can request a refund on the spot, but that requires busy clerks calling the DMV in Raleigh and the county tax office, which can add more than an hour to a customer's wait time.

Most customers, like Lisa Propst, have opted to call the county tax office instead to request a refund. But getting that refund can take well over a month, and Propst wonders how many customers have overpaid and not noticed, or just given up on the refund to avoid further hassle.

"It's really unnerving that this is going on," Propst said. "They know that it's going on and we're into June and it's not fixed yet?"

This is happening all over the state. So no matter where you live, check that the tax jurisdiction on your receipt is accurate so you can get a refund if you've been overcharged.

The DMV is working to get new software online to help clerks catch errors before customers are charged, but it's not in place yet.

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