Out-of-state tags could lead to homestead exemption loss

Published 3:38 pm Thursday, March 13, 2008

Residents who have been riding around with out-of-state tags may want to register their vehicle with Pearl River County, unless they no longer want their homestead exemption.

Pearl River County Sheriff David Allison said he has noticed a large number of out-of-state tags in the county. While most out-of-state tags can be attributed to visitors in the area there is also the possibility that a number of new residents have failed to update tags after moving here.

Earlier this year Allison said he met with county Tax Assessor Gary Beech to discuss a way to address the problem. Beech noted that line 12c on the homestead exemption application asks the applicant if they are in compliance with Mississippi road and bridge privilege tax laws. To be in compliance with those laws residents will need a county tag.

In response the county and both city law enforcement agencies will team up to look for out-of-state tags, Allison said.

Allison said the Sheriff’s Department will focus more on personal vehicles rather than work or company vehicles with out-of-state tags.

To help with the effort Allison asks county residents to report vehicles that appear to reside in the county but have out-of-state tags. Informants should provide the tag number of the offending vehicle, state of the tag on the vehicle and if possible the address where the vehicle resides. A deputy will go out to investigate the situation and any information pertaining to an offender will be sent to the Tax Office. Since the state reimburses the county for the lost revenue in homestead exemption, information pertaining to violators will be sent to the Homestead Division in Jackson. That agency will be the one to deny violators of their tax break, Beech said.

Other efforts will include traffic stops where deputies will assist the Pearl River County School District law officers in looking for out-of-state tags. Picayune Police Chief Jim Luke and Poplarville Police Chief Charlie Fazende both indicated they were planning to conduct similar operations at schools in their respective cities.

“I look forward to working with Sheriff Allison and other law enforcement agencies in apprehending those who are using out-of-state tags illegally,” Luke said.

Luke said the money from the tags is used to keep the county’s quality of life at it’s current state. He encourages residents with out-of-state tags to get the proper tag. Luke’s department has set up check points at schools in the past looking for vehicles with out-of-state tags.

Fazende said he has addressed the problem in previous years and has noticed a lot of residents with out-of-state tags and improper driver’s licenses. In the past couple years new residents have used Hurricane Katrina as an excuse.

“There’s been plenty of time for everybody to get in compliance with the law,” Fazende said.

Recently Fazende said he has noticed a number of out-of-state tags while parents pick up their children from school. In response school check points will also take place in Poplarville. Fazende said those check points will be looking for out-of-state tags, improper driver’s licenses, valid insurance and seatbelt violations.

“If your child is in school (here) then obviously you’re a resident,” Fazende said.

“People who have children in our schools should be paying taxes like the rest of us,” Allison said.

Most county residents display county tags supporting the infrastructure and county schools. This effort will equal the playing field for those that don’t.

“It’s the fair and right thing to do,” Fazende said.

Beech said in about 30 days county and city law enforcement agencies will begin investigating out-of-state tags. Residents have that much time to ensure they are in compliance, after that there will be no grace period.

If a resident has their homestead exemption revoked they can reapply for it the following year for reinstatement after they come under compliance, Beech said.

Vehicles are considered to reside in the county in which they spend four or more nights, Beech said. Such vehicles should display the proper tag. Renters will also be investigated. Vehicles belonging to residents who rent homes will be observed during tax assessments. Suspicious vehicles will be investigated, Beech said.

The goal is not to harass residents of the county, but to ensure that residents pay all applicable taxes.

Taxes collected on vehicles are based on the value of the vehicle, Beech said. Those taxes are then split up and sent to the proper agencies within the county. If the resident is a county resident then more than 50 percent of that tax is sent to the Pearl River County School District, the rest goes to the county.

City residents’ tag fee is split between the city, the applicable school district and the county. Of that money 20 percent goes to the city, 45 percent goes to the school and the remaining 35 percent goes to the county.

Tag tax revenue the county receives is split further; 10 percent goes to Pearl River Community College, 50 percent goes into the county’s general fund and the remaining 40 percent is used to maintain roads and bridges, Beech said.

Any blatant false hoods discovered during this process will be forwarded to District Attorney Hal Kittrell where his office will determine if any further legal action is necessary, Beech said.

County residents can call the Sheriff’s Department at 601-403-2340, Picayune residents should call the Picayune Police Department at 601-798-7411 and Poplarville residents can call the Poplarville Police Department at 601-795-4447. Calls with information should be made during regular business hours, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.