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NORTH -- An Orangeburg real estate broker and the mayor of North are at odds over a business license issue, and property buyers are reportedly being caught in the middle.

Rhonda Robinson, Robinson Real Estate Services Inc. broker-in-charge, said the town has refused to turn on the water for people who purchased properties from her because her company had not secured a business license to operate in North.

Robinson, who said she has a business license in Orangeburg County, noted that during the 25 years she's been in business, she's never had to have separate business licenses in each of the towns.

“I sell properties all over the counties of Orangeburg, Calhoun, Bamberg, Barnwell, Sumter, Clarendon, Richland counties and more, and I did not have to buy any business license in any of those counties (except for Orangeburg County),” she said.

North Mayor Patty Carson, however, said Robinson failed to comply with the ordinance that all real estate agents selling property in the town of North have a business license.

“The first year when she (Mayor Carson) was in office -- around March 2016 -- (she) called my cellphone and said that I needed to buy a business license in North because I had property listed at that time,” Robinson said. “I began telling her that in the 25 years I have been selling houses in North I never had to buy a business license and that I was not going to buy one now," Robinson said. "I never heard back from her (Carson) or her office, and I did not have to buy a license that year."

Robinson continued, "Then the next year when the licenses were due in March, she called me again. I called her back and specifically asked her, 'Why didn’t you require me to buy a business license after our conversation that year,' and her reply was, ‘I had bigger fish in the frying pan so I just let it slide.’ She also told my husband, ‘Tell Rhonda not to worry about the license this year; I have her covered.' "

North's business license ordinance (2010-04, 8.501.01) states, “Every person engaged or intending to engage in any calling, business, occupation or profession listed in the rate classification index portion of this ordinance, in whole or in part, within the limits of the Town of North, South Carolina, is required to pay an annual license fee for the privilege of doing business and obtain a business license as herein provided.”

Carson sent a copy of the ordinance and the following statement via email to The Times and Democrat: “This ordinance has been in effect since 2010. Why Robinson Real Estate Services was never required to purchase a license prior to my term will need to be asked of previous administrations."

The mayor added, "Regarding the properties on Bedford Avenue and North Road, the town was presented with a bill of sale from Robinson Real Estate Services requesting that the water be turned on. The town recognized that RRES did not have a business license with the town and, therefore, could not accept the bill of sale. (Business licenses are due by April 1 of each year and the realtor received a renewal notice.) With respect to the Bedford property, Ms. Robinson renewed her business license on May 25, 2018, and paid a penalty. It was not until June 5, 2018, that the homeowner presented us with the title to the property and paid the required utility setup fee. The water/sewer service was restored immediately."

Carson noted, "The process would work smoothly for all parties if Robinson Real Estate Services would comply with the business license ordinance as have three other realtors in town with whom we have had no issues.”

In an interview, Robinson said, “Why would she (Carson) refuse water to someone who just bought a house in the Town of North, S.C.? She should welcome them to town instead of causing problems for them.”

She said her first run-in with the mayor was in October 2017.

"A buyer from California bought a house in North ... from us. One of my agents handled the transaction and told the buyer she would check into how much the deposit was for them to turn the water on," Robinson said.

“My agent called the town hall and was speaking to the town clerk and told her she was calling on behalf of her buyer and wanted to know how much it would cost to turn the water on at 9431 North Road."

Robinson continued, “The clerk then handed the phone to the chief of police, and he told my agent that the water could not be turned on until Robinson Real Estate bought a business license from the town."

The chief of police does not have the authority to refuse water to a buyer, either. That is not his duty,” Robinson said.

“The buyers were staying in a motel and were ready to start moving into their home. So, the next day I went to the town hall, along with the buyers, and paid the license so that the buyers would not have to suffer the consequences of the mayor’s action.”

Asked by The T&D why, since she had to pay the license fee in 2017, she didn't pay the license fee again in 2018 when a comparable situation arose with another buyer, Robinson said, “Because I still refused to pay the business license for that year. I was mailed a copy of the license application from the town ... in February or March, and threw it in the trash. I never received a follow-up call from the town after I received it, either."

According to an application for Robinson's 2017 North business license, once she calculated the fee she had already paid Orangeburg County/City of Orangeburg for her license there, the license tax for the North business license was basically zeroed out in 2017. She said it was redundant to have to fill out another application for 2018 for a business license for the town of North when she knew that after she had already paid the Orangeburg County and Orangeburg license, her bill for the license tax for North would basically be zeroed out again.

Robinson said the second time the town refused to turn on the water for one of her clients was on May 21 of this year.

"I sold another house in North, at 812 Bedford Ave., for my church, North United Methodist Church. The property was left to our church by one of our members who passed away,” she said. “This property was not on the market nor did it have a sign in the yard. The church trustee contacted me and asked if I would help the church sell the property to a buyer they already had that wanted to purchase (it). I agreed to help, and we closed on April 26 (after the business license fee was due).

“A couple of weeks had passed, and he went to the town hall to turn the water on at the property, and the clerk told him that they could not turn the water on for him at the property because Robinson Real Estate Services did not have a business license to sell homes in the town.”

Robinson said she called North Town Hall to speak to the mayor but she was out of town. She said she asked the clerk to have Carson call her but the mayor never returned her call.

Robinson said she went to the town hall on May 24 to buy a business license so that her buyer could have water at the property. When the buyer went back to town hall a couple of days later to ask to have the water turned on at his property, the clerk told him that he would have to pay a $125 deposit to have it turned on, Robinson said.

"He told the clerk that he already had water on at his business in North so why would he have to pay another deposit. He had no other choice but to pay it," she said.

"I am not one to complain but when the public gets abused or mistreated by a public official, I feel like the people need to know about it."  

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