BOC tax ref­er­en­dum slated for elec­tion

County may face fu­ture rev­enue short­fall

The Covington News - - Front page - By Robby Byrd

Se­nior cit­i­zens in New­ton County could be on the re­ceiv­ing end of ad­di­tional home­stead tax ex­emp­tions.

The New­ton County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers on Tues­day voted 3-2 to ap­prove a pro­posal that will put a se­nior cit­i­zen home­stead tax ex­emp­tion on the bal­lots in ei­ther July or Novem­ber — a ref­er­en­dum that could lead to a nearly $437,000 short­fall in rev­enue for the county if ap­proved.

The pro­posed BOC ref­er­en­dum will be sim­i­lar to the New­ton County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion pro­posal that passed on Tues- day with 87 per­cent of the vote. If passed, the pro­posed ref­er­en­dum will go into ef­fect on the 2009 tax digest.

Ac­cord­ing to a doc­u­ment pre­pared by Tommy Knight, New­ton County’s chief tax ap­praiser, the cur­rent se­nior cit­i­zen home­stead ex­emp­tion for the county is $16,000 with an in­come cap of $15,000 per year.

The pro­posed ref­er­en­dum would al­low for a $26,000 ex­emp­tion and a $25,000 per year in­come cap.

Knight said 3,188 parcels cur­rently qual­ify for the home­stead ex­emp­tion, which cost the county $496,308 in tax rev­enue. The pro­posed ex­emp­tion would add an ex­tra 500 parcels to the list of those that qual­ify and up the to­tal tax rev­enue lost by the county to $932,990.

New­ton County Cit­i­zens for Tax Re­lief, a group of se­nior cit­i­zens pe­ti­tion­ing for the ad­di­tional tax ex­emp­tions, or­ga­nized nearly two dozen county se­nior cit­i­zens to at­tend Tues­day’s meet­ing in sup­port of the ref­er­en­dum.

One of the mem­bers, M.A. Turner, ad­dressed the com­mis­sion­ers dur­ing dis­cus­sion of the pro­posal to re­quest the ref­er­en­dum be placed on the bal­lot.

“Any­body with any sense would like to do away with taxes,” Turner said. “What we would like to have now is some im­me­di­ate re­lief. We’re just ask­ing that you give se­niors a lit­tle help if you can see your­self clear to do that we would ap­pre­ci­ate it.”

The pro­posed ref­er­en­dum met with some op­po­si­tion at Tues­day night’s meet­ing. Some com­mis­sion­ers felt it would be more pru­dent to re­search fur­ther the im­pact of the ad­di­tional tax ex­emp­tions on the county’s in­com­ing tax rev­enue.

Dis­trict 1 Com­mis­sioner Mort Ewing said he pre­ferred to hold off vot­ing un­til the Ge­or­gia leg­is­la­ture has ad­journed to see what tax re­lief bills are passed.

“I can’t make this de­ci­sion tonight on some­thing I just got five min­utes ago,” said Ewing re­fer­ring to the pro­posed ref­er­en­dum. “I don’t want to vote ‘no’ on this, but I’m go­ing to have to if it comes to a vote tonight.”

Con­cerns about an ad­e­quate rev­enue stream for the up­com­ing bud­get were also voiced by Dis­trict 5 Com­mis­sioner Monty Laster.

“I don’t think us putting it off un­til June would be a prob­lem,” Laster said. “I don’t want us to rush into this. I would like for us to go through the bud­get process be­fore we make that de­ci­sion.”

Dis­trict 4 Com­mis­sioner J.C. Henderson, who made the mo­tion to put the ref­er­en­dum on the bal­lot, said he did not feel the need to wait any longer on the pro­posal. This was an ap­par­ent change of mind of Henderson who sug­gested ear­lier in the meet­ing that no ac­tion be taken un­til all pos­si­bil­i­ties had been re­view.

“This has been some­thing we have all tus­sled with and have re­ally wanted to do some­thing about,” Henderson said.

Af­ter nearly 30 min­utes of de­bate, Henderson’s mo­tion to have the ref­er­en­dum on the bal­lot passed with the two dis­sent­ing votes com­ing from Ewing and Laster.

Other pro­pos­als

Dur­ing dis­cus­sion of the pro­posed state ex­emp­tion, Henderson asked Knight what the es­ti­mated cost of a to­tal se­nior cit­i­zen home­stead tax ex­emp­tion would mean for the county.

Ac­cord­ing to Knight’s quick cal­cu­la­tion, a com­plete ex­emp­tion based on age only no in­come re­quire­ments for res­i­dents 65 years old or older would mean a loss of nearly $1.6 mil­lion per year.

Knight said the ex­emp­tion could be phased in over time but that would be up the com­mis­sion­ers to set the time frame.

“I couldn’t sup­port a to­tal ex­emp­tion,” said Dis­trict 3 Com­mis­sioner Ester Flem­ing. “That would be dev­as­tat­ing for this county’s bud­get. We need that rev­enue to run the county.”

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