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Local property tax bills eyed in Atlanta

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POSTED: February 4, 2009 11:55 a.m.
The Senate returned to session last week with all eyes and ears on the first bills and resolutions of the session. Most notable were bills on transportation, zero-based budgeting and tougher restrictions for metal theft crimes. However, the two major issues on everyone’s mind were the Homeowner Tax Relief Grant (HTRG) funding and capping property taxes.  
The governor has proposed eliminating the HTRG, which is an annual grant made to local governments that in turn are supposed to roll back local property taxes by that amount. Unfortunately, if this cut remains in the budget and your local governments don’t cut spending, your taxes will increase. That said, filling the $428 million hole in the budget left by HTRG will not be easy in light of the difficult cuts already being proposed by the governor.
Reports in the news media have confused many by talking about the homeowner grants and the Homestead Exemption Act interchangeably. Eliminating HTRG will not do away with the Homestead Exemption Act, which will not be impacted. Here’s the bottom line difference between the two:
a. The HTRG is a grant from the state to the counties and cities that pays a portion of their property tax. Generally, grants do not have to be funded every year and they typically provide some sort of assistance to an industry or individual. It’s at the discretion of the legislature to appropriate those funds each year.  
b. The Homestead Exemption Act helps pay for a portion of property taxes. It is guaranteed should you meet all of the requirements. The act affects property values and property taxes and is designed to protect the value of the homes of residents from property taxes, creditors and circumstances arising from the death of the homeowner’s spouse.  
Friday, the House passed a bill I support to restore HTRG funding for a year.  The Senate is evaluating a solution to double the amount of property value individuals can exempt from taxes, from $2,000 to $4,000, to ensure that homeowners still receive the benefit.
In addition, HTRG would be tied to property tax legislation (HR1), which would provide tax relief for homeowners through a constitutional amendment to freeze property tax assessments. Residential property’s assessed value may not increase anymore than 2 percent per year and non-residential property’s assessed value may not increase anymore than 3 percent per year or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower.  
I am committed to creating a more transparent process aimed at returning money to homeowners. I have fought for tax relief for Georgians since being elected and will continue to do so.

Williams is Senate pro tem and represents the 19th Senate District. Call him at (404) 656-0089 or email at tommie@tommiewilliams.com
 

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