Yacht owners flee South Carolina over taxes

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Large yachts that summered in Charleston, S.C., have begun their seasonal southern migration, partially to avoid large tax bills that would arrive if they were to linger in South Carolina waters.

Yachts registered out of state don't get a bill unless they're in Charleston County waters for 180 days, so lots of those big boats get moved to places such as Florida, which has no property tax on boats, The Post and Courier newspaper reported.

"If those boats could stay, they'd be spending money and hiring people," Chuck Laughlin, of St. Barts Yachts at the Charleston City Marina, told the newspaper.

The laws involving property taxes on boats have been on the books for years, but local marina officials said enforcement has increased.

"It's definitely stepped up, and I think the stepped-up enforcement is running business out of town," said Robbie Freeman, manager of the Charleston City Marina. "I've never seen it this bad. We probably lost five or six customers this week."

Charleston County Auditor Peggy Moseley denies that there has been any sort of crackdown. Records from her office have previously shown, however, that until last year, when the issue was raised repeatedly at public meetings, no yacht worth $1 million or more had received a bill in Charleston County, the newspaper reported.

"What we've done is left after 179 days," said Charleston-area resident John Thomas, owner of a 50-foot boat worth about half a million dollars. "I'll take my $10,000 [that would be owed in taxes] and buy some fuel and stay in the Bahamas. If they would charge a reasonable fee - $1,000 or $2,000 - we would pay it and stay."

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