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Counties responsible for higher taxes

POSTED: September 9, 2009 4:00 a.m.

Property owners beware. Some counties are sadly misleading taxpayers to believe the Legislature is responsible for any potential property tax increases this year. They suggest this is due to there being no Homeowners Tax Relief Grant in the Fiscal Year 2010 state budget.  

  

When making such claims, it’s important to note that the legislature does not have the constitutional authority to raise property taxes. Only commissioners and local school boards can make that decision.  Transparency and honesty are especially important in government, so let’s set the record straight.  

  

Property tax bills are determined by the local government (counties and cities) when they set the millage rate and the individual assessed property value.

  

HTRG is a grant the state extends to local governments based upon revenue dollars. Property values are not shaped by this grant that may or may not be available from year to year. The purpose is to provide property tax relief for Georgia homeowners when there is a state revenue surplus. 

  

When HTRG began in 2000, the appropriation was $83 million. It has grown overwhelmingly to almost $430 million in just eight years.

  

Facing steeply declining revenues this year, the Legislature took a hard look at the state budget to ensure we could protect funds for vital services like education, health care and public safety. We fought hard to protect HTRG funding when the governor threatened to remove it from the 2009 budget. While this year’s budget situation forced us to make difficult decisions, it is anticipated that when the economy recovers we will be able to resume this appropriation in the future.

  

In an effort to provide homeowners with permanent tax relief today, I, along with the GOP leadership in the Senate, attempted to double the Statewide Homestead Exemption (SB 83). A homestead exemption is not the same as HTRG.

  

The exemption is designed to protect the value of a home from property taxes, creditors and circumstances arising from the death of the homeowner’s spouse, and is guaranteed directly to the homeowner if they meet the requirements. 

  

However, local governments lobbied against even allowing this proposed legislation to go to the ballot. A majority of Democrats in the state legislature also voted five times against the measure, keeping it short of the required two-third majority vote.  

  

The Legislature was successful in passing a number of measures to protect property owners this session.

  

We capped property tax assessments at 0 percent for two years (HB 233). 

  

Through a bill I authored, we enforced true assessed property values by requiring all distressed properties be considered when determining local values (SB 55).  

  

In order for property owners to have a fair chance at appeal, we instituted the New Expedited and Cost Effective Process of Appeals of Assessment that places the burden of proof on the government, not the property owner (SB 240). 

  

Finally, property owners also must now receive a Notice of Right to File Return with Every Tax Bill (HB 304).  

  

This session, Republicans in the Legislature did everything possible to protect property owners and taxpayers by cutting overgrown and inefficient government programs. Counties put these citizens at risk by relying on unpredictable grants to balance their budgets. We chose to protect property owners and taxpayers from unreliable funds. 

  

Sen. Chip Pearson can be reached at (404) 656-9921 or via e-mail at chip.pearson@senate.ga.gov.

 

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