Staff Photo by Angela Lewis
These homes in Joshua Farms Subdvision are located just off of Highway 41 in North Georgia.
DALTON, Ga. -- Most Georgia homeowners will pay more property taxes in 2010 because they're not likely to continue receiving a state tax credit on their bills.
The Georgia Legislature this year voted to end a 10-year-old program that used state revenues to offset a share of local property taxes. Lawmakers said the Homeowner Tax Relief Grant could come back when the budget crisis is over and state revenues improve.
Whitfield County homeowners can expect to see an average increase of $160 for the fiscal year that begins Jan. 1, Tax Commissioner Danny Sane said.
Dalton citizens will see an increase of about $128 because of different taxing districts that apply to city residents, Chief Appraiser Trammell Suddeth said.
Mr. Sane said other tax exemptions, such as those for homesteads and senior citizens, will remain. But he said the loss of the state credit is going to affect a lot of people.
"The bottom line is your taxes are going up unless you are totally exempt by local legislation," he said.
The loss is a sore spot with county leaders, because they're concerned citizens will perceive the increase as something they've done.
"(Property owners) will see an increase to their tax bills that has nothing to do with us and it does not benefit us," said Whitfield County Finance Director Ron Hale.
Mr. Hale said he doesn't think commissioners will look to raise the county government millage rate this year, which is among the state's lowest at 5.061.
Withdrawing the Homeowner Tax Relief Grant means counties that do raise taxes to make ends meet will appear to impose a double tax increase, Mr. Hale said.
Mr. Sane said when the homeowner tax credit started, county officials were required to point out that it came from the state. But the new legislation says local officials can't send out information with tax bills showing it's being taken away.
There's a push at the county level to get information out so the public isn't surprised.
"There's nobody in local county government that can change this," Mr. Sane said. "We can't get the money out of the state anymore.
"I feel sorry for the county commissioners and for the school boards," he said. "It looks like they are going to get the brunt of this, but in all reality they have nothing to do with it being exempted to start with and they've got nothing to do with the fact that it is going to be retrieved."
Whitfield County Schools spokesman Eric Beavers said system hopes to continue its current millage rate of 14.7560 and will look at rolling back the rate to avoid increasing tax collections.
"We still need the same amount of revenue that we've been collecting to operate; the state's just not helping taxpayers with that rebate anymore," he said.
Mr. Sane said the change "couldn't come at a worse time."
"Our economy is bad, and we've got a lot of people out of work," he said.
Rep. Roger Williams, R-Dalton, said the decision to eliminate the credit, which costs the state about $350 million, is part of statewide budget cuts.
He said a 3 percent increase in state revenues would be grounds to reinstate the credit, but the likelihood of that happening in 2010 is slim. He said state revenues still are down about 10 percent, and the state is looking at more budget cuts.
"Hopefully down the road we'll be able to implement it back again," he said. "We just need to hang in there and realize we can weather this thing if we all stick together and have a positive attitude."
FIGURE YOUR PROPERTY TAX
This property tax formula applies to most tax districts in Georgia:
Property tax = Assessed value (40 percent of fair market value) x mill rate/1,000
(Dalton assessment is 100 percent of FMV)
Source: Georgia Department of Revenue Web site