Committee votes yes for property tax change

There's no denying that there is a revenue imbalance in Columbus.

Some homeowners in Muscogee County pay thousands in property taxes while their neighbors might pay a few hundred.

The charter review committee voted 'yes' to a fee for some fountain city residents that they say could bring in more revenue and fairness to the city's tax structure.

They are calling it a City Service Fee, a maximum of $500 that property owners in Columbus would pay. The fee would only apply to owners who already pay less than $500 on their property taxes.

Charter Review Chairman John Shinkle said it has been a hot button topic since they started talking about it in February.

"If you came to the public hearing, you heard dramatic emotional opposition. If you go to the grocery store and you are a member of the charter review commission you'll hear just as much emotion on the other side that people need to pay their fair share," said Shinkle.

By a large majority, the commission voted yes to the fee on Monday night. But, that does not mean the fee will necessarily be enacted. The commission voted for the issue to be on the ballot next November.

Even if voted in by the public, that still does not mean it will be put in place. The city council would still have to approve.

The property tax freeze has left some residents on the same street, with the same property value, paying extremely different amounts in taxes.

For example, if bought your house in 1990 and it was evaluated for $300 in property taxes, you are still paying $300 because of the freeze. If your neighbor bought their house in 2006, they might pay thousands per year in property taxes and is frozen there.

"So, those who bought homes in '06, they are not worth what they paid for. Their property tax is still frozen.  Nobody ever thought, I do not think, that property taxes would go down."

If approved by the public and council, Shinkle said there would be some people exempted. "If you are making below a certain amount of money they can exempt you from the city services fee. If you are a disabled veteran they can exempt you. If you are a senior citizen they can exempt you," he explained.