Local News

January 6, 2013

Property tax relief for all, or some?

County wants to give a break to homeowners

The Whitfield County Board of Commissioners wants to give homeowners a break, possibly a huge break, on their property taxes. But some other local officials say the commissioners’ plan won’t actually lower taxes, it will just shift them onto business and industry.

The disagreement stems from the commissioners’ desire to change state law to target tax relief to homeowners instead of to all property owners.

Whitfield County currently has a Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) that raises about $18 million a year. Under state law, counties and cities with a property tax must use LOST money to roll back property taxes. Commissioners can’t use the LOST to roll back taxes in the new special tax districts, only for general property tax.

Currently, just 22 percent of the value of the roll back in Whitfield County goes to residential properties, according to data provided by commissioners. The rest goes to other types of property, primarily commercial and industrial. Outside the city of Dalton, just 12 percent of the value of the roll back goes to residential property.

“I don’t think that’s what the residents of this county had in mind when they voted on the LOST 40 years ago,” said Board of Commissioners Chairman Mike Babb.

Babb and the rest of the board have asked Whitfield County’s delegation to the General Assembly to change state law to allow voters to dedicate all or part of the LOST revenues to rolling back property taxes to properties that qualify for the homestead exemption, basically someone’s primary residence.

“If we can use 100 percent of that money to roll back residential property, that would be great, but if it’s just 40 percent or even 30 percent, we’ll take whatever we can get,” Babb said. “We think 22 percent is not enough.”

Only after homestead properties have been rolled back would the rest of the tax digest get a roll back. Babb said he does not want to change how the money is divided among the county and the various cities. The county only recently concluded a deal that calls for the city of Dalton to receive 32 percent of LOST revenues in 2013, with that share rising 1 percent every other year to 36 percent in 2021. Whitfield County will get 64.851 percent in 2013, with that share dropping to 60.457 percent in 2021. The rest will be divided among the county’s other three cities. The county and Dalton must renegotiate that split every 10 years, after the results of the latest census are in.

Babb says commissioners also do not want to change how the cities roll back their property taxes. Their proposal would only affect how the county rolls back its property tax.

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