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Tax 'freeze' awaits vote
If OKed amendment would face the voters
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Legislation recently passed by the Georgia Senate calling for a constitutional amendment to freeze existing residential property taxes would have a minimal impact on the Liberty County School System if signed into law, according to system officials.
Senate Resolution 686, authored by Senate President Pro Tempore Eric Johnson (R-Savannah), provides a sliding homestead exemption for residential property, which in essence, freezes property taxes until the home is sold.
The senator's plan would lock-in the amount of property tax a homeowner pays at the time the owner acquires the property. Any increase thereafter would be subject to limitations.
Once a property is transferred or sold to another person, that property will be appraised at its fair market value on the date of the new owner's acquisition. Any increase in the assessment could not exceed an inflation percentage set by the Department of Revenue for the current tax year.
According to Johnson, who represents most of Liberty County in the Senate, the measure protects homeowners from "backdoor" tax increases and provides them with more certainty about their property tax bills each year.
"We've discussed tax reform and one of the problems with property tax is its unpredictability," he said. "This would give predictability to residential property owners."
The senator likened his bill to the county's Kemp-Deloach-Williams Tax Relief Act, which is intended to keep assessments from rising more than 3 percent in any given year, and said, "It's the same thing statewide."
But while Johnson's measure has been praised by tax reform supporters, it has drawn the ire of school board advocates throughout the state who claim the bill hinders school districts from raising funds to maintain their systems.
Angela Palm, an official with the Georgia School Boards Association who testified before a Senate committee against the bill, said the legislation limits school boards to depending on millage rates to meet their needs. She said many school systems would have a difficult time raising necessary revenues because they have reached or are near the 20-mill tax rate cap.
This is not the case for the Liberty County School System, according to Assistant Superintendent for Administrative Services Jason Rogers.
"Of all the different tax reforms, this would have the least impact on our local school system because it doesn't appear to be any way, shape or form restricting the actual ability of the board to establish a millage rate," he said. "I could see how those school boards that are already at their millage cap or either really close to it may struggle with budget issues, but our current millage is 15.6 mils...and at this point, we have no intentions of raising the millage rate."
Rogers said the one way the school system could be affected by a cap on property assessment increases "would be if the state advocated or mandated a pretty good increase for teachers."
"An increase in your teachers salary would then drive your increases in your employer contributions for teacher retirement and health insurance," he said. "And the local property taxes and the local funds we get from property taxes are what assist us in paying those benefits for our employees."
SR 686 now awaits a vote in the Georgia House. If approved by two-thirds of the Senate and House, the measure will appear on the November ballot as a "yes/no" question for Georgia voters to affirm or reject the constitutional amendment.
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