Higher property tax bill? - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports


Higher property tax bill?

By Zaneta Lowe  - bio | email | Twitter

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - A 100% increase on your taxes sounds ridiculous, but some Georgia residents say it's reality on their property tax bills.   When state legislators decided they couldn't go on subsidizing the homeowners tax relief grant system, Newsleader 9 reported that some residents should expect to see an increase in the amount on their bills. 

Well, now that those bills are out, the complaints are flooding in.

"I just couldn't believe it, could not believe it!" That's how Dorothy Duggins reacted to the sight of her latest property tax bill.  It spiked more than $300 for 2009.

Due to the budget shortfall, Georgia residents like Duggins aren't getting their usual homeowner tax relief credit.  In fact, the space on her bill that normally shows the credit is blank for this year.

"I was aware, but I wasn't aware to the tune of $300 plus," says Duggins.   We discovered Duggins isn't alone.  The ConsumerWatch team received numerous phone calls and emails about the issue.

We took those concerns straight to Muscogee County Tax Commissioner Lula Huff.  The homeowner tax relief credit was signed into law 10 years ago, and Huff says the amount of the credit is determined each year by the General Assembly based on the budget.

"The recession was taking a dive very rapidly, and we were seeing that the revenues that had been there in the past were not there and it started to decline at that point," explains Huff.

So Huff says after getting word from the state, her office began to notify homeowners they weren't getting the credit this year.

"The intent was to try to tell everyone early enough on, so you could start setting aside a little bit of funds," says Huff.

Still, Huff says her office has been flooded with phone calls, and she says she understands why folks are concerned.

"I know it can look a little crazy when you get your bill and all of a sudden, wow, where did this come from?"

Huff adds, though, it's technically not an increase in property taxes, it's simply an increase in what you're paying.

The way the credit works is that homeowners get a break on their bill, but the state still sends that money to each county.

For Muscogee, it amounted to about $8.7 million last year.  It's just that this year, the state isn't footing the bill, homeowners are.

Duggins says she doesn't mind paying her fair share. In fact, she has a separate account set aside just for property taxes, but she says for other folks on a fixed income, it will be tough.

"Their big concern is, I'm a senior citizen, I live on a fixed income, I can't afford this, where am I going to start cutting?"

Huff says homeowners may also want to begin planning for next year because it's unclear if the state will be able to afford the credit.

She also says most of the questions they've received have been regarding homestead exemptions.

To be clear, if you're getting homestead, that doesn't change just because you're not getting the relief credit this year, those are two different issues.

Plus, this has nothing to do with the property tax freeze exclusive to Muscogee County.

On another note, if your property taxes are handled through escrow, you should be getting something in the mail this week from the tax commissioner's office.   It will also include a slip stating your mortgage holder has been notified.

Meanwhile, if you do have questions about your property tax bill call 706-653-4211.

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