Housing Industry, BRAC concerns loom as budget process nears

By Andrew Wittenberg  - bio | email

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - While many of us are just getting used to the year 2011, Columbus leaders are already looking ahead to 2012.

Next week, they'll start looking at the city budget.

With the probable cuts from the state, an influx of population through base realignment, and an overall stagnant housing industry, how will the numbers match up?

It's a problem U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson has seen before.

"It's a challenging time for housing, but you know, I spent 33 years in the real estate business, I went through four recessions, the bad news was they all hurt, but the good news was they all ended. And I think this one will too," Isakson said.

For local leaders, like Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, the plight of the economy goes hand in hand with next year's budget.

With less state money and less tax revenue, the harder to make ends meet.

"It's quite a struggle actually I think for most municipalities to maintain a balance that can guarantee the revenue to provide services people expect and need, and at the same time, make sure you're not burdening and particular segment of the economy," Tomlinson said.

One particular issue of the budget that always stirs emotion, property taxes.

The collection amounts for 31 percent of the city's revenue, millions of dollars.

Longtime homeowners benefit from a property tax freeze, which has been in place for years, while recent home buyers pay thousands.

"Now, we're beginning to see with our aging population, it is putting seniors in a position of not being able to downsize, because the property taxes are frozen on their four bedroom home, and it is at such a rate, that they cannot afford on this fixed income, to go down to a two bedroom home," Tomlinson said.

Senator Isakson maintains tax burdens on the city will ease when unemployment decreases, and when that happens construction and real estate will come back, allowing local communities to re-address property taxes.

Tomlinson begins the budget process for the city of Columbus next week.

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