Deputies crack down on illegal tags

Published 11:07 pm Saturday, October 18, 2008

Sheriff David Allison said he promised to crack down on those illegally carrying an out-of-state car tag and he is now fulfilling that promise.

In March of this year, the Pearl River County Sheriff’s Department promised to investigate local residents whose vehicles are displaying tags from another state. One of the ways they have been doing that is looking for those who file for homestead exemption but display a tag from another state on one or more of their vehicles.

To catch those who are not filing homestead exemption, Capt. Kelvin Stanford said the department will look for vehicles with out-of-state tags who reside in the county four or more days a week. If a car has an out-of-state tag and resides in the county for that period of time, it is a violation of the law.

On Friday, Capt. Kelvin Stanford took a list the department developed using the homestead exemption status of various residents and went out looking for violators. He said the department has been working on the list since August.

The first stop made on Friday was in Hide-A-Way Lake. The homeowner had two Cadillacs, both with Louisiana tags. One of the cars was parked so the tag was visible from the road. The other was backed into the carport and was only discovered to have an out-of-state tag through Stanford’s investigation.

After talking with the HAWL resident, Stanford was able to establish that both cars had out-of-state tags. Stanford issued the resident two citations. He will face a fine and court costs totaling up to $1,086.50, which is the fine for an out-of-state tag, for each car.

Stanford said deputies have been touring the county and using tips from residents to find the out-of-state tags. That information is then cross-checked with tax records at the county tax office. If the car is registered to the same person filing home exemption, then the department has cause to issue a citation for the offense. Some of the people he had on his list have been filing for homestead exemption since 2001.

To work with new residents of the county who have failed to get the proper tag, Stanford said only post-arrest citations will be issued, in lieu of taking offenders to jail. One resident on his list was simply given a warning since the car in question appeared to no longer be in operation and the resident had a newer vehicle with the proper tag. Stanford said he will check back to see if the car in question is really out of service. The remaining people on his list that he went to talk to were not home, so he said he will check back during evening hours or on weekends.

Tax Assessor Gary Beech said when residents file for homestead exemption, they are asked if they are in compliance with county bridge and road laws, which means does their vehicle display a Pearl River County tag. When those residents are convicted of an out-of-state tag violation, their homestead exemption is revoked until they come into compliance. They will have to reapply for homestead exemption at the beginning of the following year.

Homestead exemption gives residents a five percent discount on their property taxes, from 15 percent to 10 percent. That percentage is based of the home’s assessed value and put into a formula. Beech said, however, that five percent discount amounts to a 50 percent decrease in their yearly property taxes.

“If you lost your homestead, you’ll lose a lot of money,” Beech said.

Sheriff David Allison said each person cited for the offense will have his or her day in Justice Court. If a person is cited for the offense and gets a new Pearl River County tag thinking that will fix the fine, they will be mistaken. The violator still will have to go to court and pay the fine, Allison said.

“I hope people will realize we’re serious,” Allison said.

Residents of the county displaying out-of-state tags cost the county money that could be used to maintain roads, bridges and fund the Sheriff’s Department and school districts, Allison said.

The operation to identify those with out-of-state tags illegally on their vehicles will be a continuing effort, Stanford said. He encourages anyone who lives in the county but who has an out-of-state tag on one or more of their vehicles to come into compliance with state law and register the vehicle with the county by getting a Pearl River County tag. Tags can be obtained at the Carriere Tax Office on U.S. 11 or the Poplarville Tax Office on Main Street.

To catch residents with out-of-state tags who do not file homestead tax exemption, Allison said the department will use traffic stops and school check points.

The Sheriff’s Department is still taking tips from residents who suspect a person is illegally displaying an out-of-state tag on a vehicle. 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.