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Homeowners to get slapped with more taxes?

Hope really hard that state lawmakers find a way to pay for the homestead exemptions so many of us received last fall. Because if they don’t, ScrevenCounty officials say they’ll send tax bills of $206 to each resident of the county with a homestead exemption.

 

That’s 3,200 households that each would get a bill for $206, payable within 60 days of getting the bill – sometime this spring.

State lawmakers still may make the whole problem go away by finding a way to pay for the exemptions, which would cost $428 million statewide. A bill proposed in the House Tuesday would fund the exemptions this year and offer exemptions in future years only if state revenue grows enough to fund them.

Since revenue isn’t likely to grow, that most likely would mean no more homestead exemptions, and that, in turn, would mean local governments would have to raise property taxes or cut spending.

But that would at least put the problem off and prevent homeowners from getting a spring surprise in the mail.

A number of House leaders have signed onto the bill, and Senate leaders also initially signaled they approve of the idea.

Another safety net that would have protected holders of homesteads seems to have disappeared this week: ScrevenCounty commissioners have said they would hate to send spring tax bills to residents. County Manager Rick Jordan said he thinks they would have avoided such a last-minute increase if they possibly could have – perhaps by cutting spending or finding some other source to replace the money.

But a lawyer for the Association County Commissioners of Georgia issued a memo Saturday saying the state constitution and the law creating the exemptions are set up in such a way that local governments legally cannot make up the difference.

The homestead “credits are a result of a grant of power to General Assembly and there is no similar authorization to local governments. Consequently, counties, cities and school boards are not authorized to provide similar credits,” said the association’s legal counsel, James F. Grubiak.

Jordan said the state attorney general would have to weigh in the issue, but if the attorney general agrees with the ACCG lawyer, that would tie the hands of local governments – preventing them, legally, from taking up the slack if state lawmakers fail to come through with the funds.

The bottom line is this – if you own homesteaded property and don’t want to (or can’t) pay an additional $206 this spring, contact your state lawmakers as soon as possible and urge them to find a way to pay for the homestead exemptions.