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Tax assessments could be frozen

POSTED: April 1, 2009 4:00 a.m.

As a first step towards permanently eliminating “back door” ad valorem property tax increases statewide, the House and Senate passed House Bill 233 and sent it to the Governor for his signature.

  

HB 233 puts a moratorium on property assessment increases for the next two years. Under this freeze, property assessments in Georgia will not rise above their current value for this period of time unless the property is improved or rezoned. We all know that under the current economic conditions, property values should not go up and this legislation protects the homeowner from undue increases. 

  

SB 55, currently in the House Rules Committee, requires assessors to consider forced sales of comparable property in determining fair market value of real property. It requires assessors to consider the decreased value of property based on limitations and restrictions resulting from the property being in a conservation easement. The bill also provides that the board of assessors must send out change-in-assessment notices if the value of the property increases or decreases. Currently, some counties are not sending out notices if the value decreases.

  

After months of committee meetings and hearings, several other bills made it through the General Assembly and to the Governor’s desk last week. If signed by Gov. Perdue, these bills will become law. Some of the bills awaiting the governor’s signature include House Bills 149 and 160, as well as Senate Bill 13. 

House Bill 149 allows 11th and 12th grade public school students to attend a college or technical school to complete high school, while receiving credit towards a higher degree. This bill, commonly called the “Move on When Ready” Act, gives public school students and their families more options to fit their individual educational needs. By allowing students to choose courses that fit their personal life goals, we can foster the educational interest students need to succeed.

  

House Bill 160 imposes an additional $200 fine on “super speeders.” This bill defines a super speeder as a driver who goes 85 miles per hour or faster on a four-lane highway, and 75 miles or faster on a two-lane road. Even though the bill does not specifically say so, the Governor has promised that revenues raised through these fines will help pay for a statewide trauma care network. This is so Georgians can get the critical care they expect in the event of an emergency.

  

Senate Bill 13 gives prosecutors in Georgia the option to seek life without parole convictions for serious criminal offenses. Under current law, the only way a prosecutor can secure a life without parole conviction is to seek the death penalty. Death penalty trials are usually very costly and take longer to complete at a greater expense to our taxpayers. Often times, prosecutors seek the death penalty just to secure the life without parole conviction. This change in law will allow prosecutors to seek this type of conviction directly without going for the death penalty. It will also ensure that the people who need to be locked up for the rest of their lives will be sentenced quicker and reduce the cost of such trials.

  

Another important bill to provide more statewide property tax relief in the form of an increased homestead exemption failed to win approval by both houses. 

  

Earlier this year, we voted to approve Senate Bill 83, which would have doubled the homestead exemption from $2,000 to $4,000 of fair market value, but it failed along a party line vote. This week it was reconsidered and came back up for a vote, but again fell short of the 120 vote Constitutional requirement. 

 

Unfortunately, House Democrats blocked this bill’s approval again. 

  

The original $2,000 homestead exemption was passed by the General Assembly in 1937 when the average price of a house was less than $4,000. Can you imagine an exemption on all homesteaded property equal to one-half the value of your house? That is what it was 72 years ago, in the middle of The Great Depression.

  

Some of the reasons given for not supporting the increase in homestead exemption were that the local governments can’t afford it and that, if passed, it should be delayed. This was just so much “smoke.” The vote was scheduled for 2010 with an effective date of Jan. 1, 2011. 

  

Let me explain what all the fuss was about. On a $200,000 home with a 20-mil tax, the savings from an additional $2,000 exemption would be $40. That’s all — $40. If the governing authority wished to offset that amount with a tax increase, it would amount to about a half mil, less on more expensive homes.

  

There’s still a lot of work to be done on a lot of legislation before the Session ends on April 3. Most of the front-burner, high-profile issues will go down to the wire, so I still need to hear from you about these issues.

  

My final Saturday morning breakfast-with-constituents will be 8 a.m. April 4 at the Wagon Wheel Restaurant in Dahlonega. Join me for a legislative wrap up. 

  

Amos Amerson can be reached at 401 Capitol, Atlanta, GA 30334; (404) 657-8534; fax (404) 463-2044; e-mail amos.amerson@house.ga.gov.

 

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