The news was passed down to county council members last Wednesday that county auditor Johnny Jenkins has been too conservative with the local option sales tax (LOST) revenue over the past few years.
According to the LOST ordinance passed about five years ago, Jenkins is supposed to be using 100 percent of the local option sales tax revenue to provide relief for county property taxes.
According to accountant David Myers, who handles the county's annual independent audit, that has not been the case.
Myers said this past year was the first year that Jenkins actually gave back at least as much in local option sales tax credits as he took in.
Myers reported that last year the county returned almost $100,000 more in LOST credits than it received, but that still leaves the county with more than $900,000 in undistributed credits.
"No matter how you look at it, " Myers said, "that's all taxpayers' money. They need to get it back."
Jenkins said returning the money is not as easy as it sounds.
The money has to be distributed evenly to taxpayers based on assumptions that are made an entire year in advance.
In order to figure out the formula he uses, Jenkins' estimates how much money will be raised from the local option sales tax the following year, combined with money left over from LOST credits the previous year and divides that by how much he estimates property taxes will be in a year. Jenkins said when figuring the future property taxes, he also has to take into consideration any new properties that may come in the area to be taxed.
The fact that giving away the correct amount of LOST credits all boils down to his best assumptions makes things a little tricky. "If we knew exactly how much money was going to be raised through the local option sales tax, and knew exactly how much local property taxes were going to amount to, we could give back exactly 100 percent," Jenkins said.
As it is, Jenkins is trying to get the givebacks close enough to 100 percent without the county losing money.
For more information on this story, please read the February 12, 2004 edition of the Cheraw Chronicle/Chesterfield Advertiser.