Houston Gaines and Marcus Wiedower, who represent Oconee County in the Georgia House of Representatives, will be able to introduce legislation on Monday allowing county voters to decide whether to increase the homestead exemption for county and school property taxes.
They also will be in a position to allow voters to decide if they want to freeze property tax assessments for persons once they turn 65 years of age.
The legal section of Thursday’s edition of The Oconee Enterprise included 10 Notices of Intention to Introduce Local Legislation stating that legislation will be introduced in the current session of the General Assembly to modify the existing exemptions and replace them with new ones.
Publication of the legal notices makes it possible for Gaines and Wiedower to introduce the legislation on Monday, the 36th day of the 40 day legislative session.
The General Counsel of the General Assembly decided that the changes proposed by the county require 10 pieces of legislation, necessitating the10 legal advertisements that appeared in the Thursday paper.
If the legislation passes in the House and then the Senate, Oconee County voters will get to vote on the changes in 2024, and the changes in the exemptions will take place on Jan. 1 of 2025.
In the meantime, Oconee County homeowners will get a one-time property tax saving while paying this year’s property taxes as a result of legislation signed by Gov. Brian Kemp on March 13.
For most Oconee County homeowner–those living in the unincorporated parts of the county–that savings will be $386. For those living in the county’s four cities, who pay slightly higher taxes to the county, the savings will be $401.
What County Proposing
On Jan. 3, the Oconee County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution asking Gaines and Wiedower to introduce legislation to change the existing local legislation setting up homestead exemptions.
|Two Of 10 Notices In March 16, 2023, |
Edition Of County Legal Organ
The proposed changes would increase the homestead exemption from its current $2,000 to $5,000 in 2025 and to $10,000 in 2035.
The property assessment would be frozen at its level after a person turns 65.
If the assessment were frozen on a homeowner’s property, taxes would not increase unless the county Board of Commissioners or the School Board increased the millage rate.
Persons who turn 75 also would get an additional $10,000 homestead exemption.
The Board of Education did not pass a resolution, but Board Chair Kim Argo said the Board approved of the changes requested by the county.
At the present combined millage rates for county government and county schools, the current $2,000 homestead exemption results in a savings of $43 for those who live in the unincorporated parts of the county and $45 dollars for those in the county’s four cities.
If that exemption is increased to $5,000 and the millage rate remains unchanged, the homestead exemption would produce a saving of $107 in the unincorporated parts of the county and $112 in the incorporated parts of the county.
That means increased savings of $64 and $67 dollars in the unincorporated and incorporated parts of the county respectively.
The freezing of assessments likely will have greater impact, particularly in periods of high inflation in home assessments such as those of recent years.
Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell said in an email on March 9 that the county had not yet seen the legislation that will be required to produce the desired changes.
Gaines, Wiedower, and County Attorney Daniel Haygood had work with the Legislative Counsel of the General Assembly to create the legislation.
“At this point it appears there will be 10 local acts required (to) make the changes we are working toward,” Daniell said in that email.
“And that appears to mean there will be 10 ballot questions required as well,” he continued. “All 10 ballot questions will have to be approved (by the legislature) prior the being able to appear on the ballot in 2024.”
Both the House and the Senate must approve the legislation, but local legislation is not affected by the crossover rule, Daniell said.
That rule limited final passage of bills to those that cleared one or the other chamber by March 6.
The legal advertisements, which appear at the bottom of B6 and B8 of Thursday’s Enterprise, actually cover five areas.
In each case, the notice is given first for Oconee County and then for the Oconee County school district.
Three of the notices say that “ Notice is given that there will be introduced at the 2023 regular session of the General Assembly of Georgia a bill to provide a homestead exemption from Oconee County ad valorem taxes for county purposes; and for other purposes.”
That notice is then repeated for “Oconee County school district ad valorem taxes.”
The remaining four notices deal with the introduction of legislation to repeal two existing income based exemptions in effect in the county.
Daniell said at the Jan. 3 meeting that the two existing income based exemptions will continue with the life of the recipient under the plan proposed by the Board of Commissioners.
How State Rebate Will Work
Though the public discussion of the property tax refund has made it clear that the governor is granting the tax relief, none of the property taxes homeowners pay in Oconee County goes to the state.
The Georgia Department of Revenue issued a statement regarding what is termed the “2023 Property Tax Relieve Grant” shortly after Kemp signed House Bill 18 into law on March 13.
“Property taxes are primarily a local issue,” according to the statement.
The one-time grant will refund $950 million in property taxes back to homestead owners in the Amended Fiscal Year 2023 budget, the statement reads.
The Department of Revenue will reimburse local governments for the reduction of assessed value of homesteads by $18,000.
Property owners will receive the tax relief grant in the form of a $18,000 reduction of the assessed value of their property.
The amount of money of the reduction is based on the local millage rate, that is, he higher the rate the greater the reduction.
Oconee County Tax Commissioner Jennifer Riddle said in an email message on March 15 that this reduction will be $386 for a homeowner in the unincorporated parts of the county and confirmed my calculation of $401for the incorporated parts of the county in an email on Thursday (March 16).
According to Riddle, after granting the individual exemptions, “We will then calculate the total number of homestead exemptions in the county to apply for the credit from the DOR.”
“The total number of homestead exemptions in the county, including standard, disabled veteran, and senior homestead exemptions, for 2022 was approximately 9,100,” she added.
According to the Department of Revenue explanation, the state set three conditions on reimbursement of the local government.
“The credit cannot exceed liability once all applicable homestead exemptions and millage rollbacks have been applied,” according to the web site.
Appropriation of funds is “conditional on the local taxing authorities reducing a taxpayer’s liability,” it states.
The local taxing authority must include “a notice on the property tax bill which states that the reduction comes from the Governor and the General Assembly,” the DOR states.
According to state law, a Notice of Intention to Introduce Local Legislation can be published during the session of the General Assembly or 60 days prior to the session.
“If the notice is published during the session of the General Assembly, then the bill cannot be introduced before Monday of the calendar week following the week in which the notice was published.”
The General Assembly is not in session on Friday, so the delay until Monday is of no consequence.
Too bad that Georgia law (OCGA Chapter 48) states that unspent or excess money - euphemistically called a "fund balance" - makes no provision for when or how the unspent money is "returned to the people."
So they form committees on how to spend the excess funds. Whee!
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