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S.C. ordinances extend tax-free time limit on boats

South Carolina's coastal counties are moving quickly to approve ordinances allowing boats to stay in their waters up to 180 aggregate days in a single tax year.

The ordinances reverse a state law passed about five years ago that cut the time limit to 60 days, or 90 aggregate days in a single tax year. After that time, the boats would then be subject to property taxes, according to Suzi DuRant, executive director of the South Carolina Marine Association.

The original intent of the legislation was to reduce the tax burden on boaters from 10.5 percent — among the highest on the East Coast — to 6 percent if the boat qualified as a second home, or 4 percent if it was a primary home.

One of the state senators involved with that legislation thought the bill had a better chance of passing if the time limit for tax liability was reduced, said DuRant, who spoke with Soundings Trade Only this morning.

“He did this without speaking to anybody in the marine industry and we were pretty upset about it,” she said.

“It hurt us tourist-wise … and it had a trickle-down effect on the local economies. It hurt the towns and businesses that count on that money.”

She said the reduced time limit also affected local tax revenues because transient boaters simply moved their vessels out of state.

Earlier this year, the state legislature passed a bill that allows individual counties to change ordinances back to the original 180 aggregate days. Beaufort County was the first to enact the option.

Horry County completed a second reading earlier this week and will have a third reading Dec. 16. Georgetown County will have a second reading on a similar ordinance Dec. 9 and, if successful, will schedule the third reading in January, said DuRant. Charleston County has not yet considered the change.

— Melanie Winters



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