Having a HOST
The commissioners’ proposal would make the Whitfield County LOST work more like a second type of local sales tax permitted by Georgia law, the Homestead Option Sales Tax (HOST.) The state allows counties to adopt only one of those two taxes. They are both 1 percent taxes, and both are charged on the same items. So to those paying the sales tax, it doesn’t make a difference which tax a county adopts. But to property owners it could make a big difference.
“Under the LOST, because you are spreading it out over so many different types of properties, the property tax reduction is far less on any one type of property. However, everybody who owns property gets something under the LOST,” said Clint Mueller, legislative director for the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia. “The HOST is targeted, so the homestead property owners will get a far bigger tax break than they would under a LOST. But you don’t get a break on any non-homesteaded property you own.”
“If I’m going to the polls, and the only property I own is the home I live in, then I’m clearly in favor of a HOST over a LOST. It will financially benefit me,” Mueller said. “But if I own other types of property, HOST may not be the best alternative to me.”
Currently, just two Georgia counties — Rockdale and DeKalb — have a HOST, 154 counties have a LOST, and three have neither. The General Assembly allowed counties to adopt a LOST in the 1970s. It approved the HOST in the 1990s, after most counties had already adopted a LOST.
Cherokee County voters rejected a HOST in November. Cherokee has neither a HOST nor a LOST.
Mueller said a number of factors affected the Cherokee County vote. For one, under Georgia law, just 80 percent of HOST money goes to rolling back homestead property taxes. The remaining 20 percent can be used by county officials for capital projects. Mueller said local tea party activists opposed the tax because of that latter provision.
Mueller said that some Cherokee officials said voters may have been confused because the HOST vote actually required them to vote on two separate ballot questions, one on the tax itself and the second on the homestead exemption.
“Cherokee County officials definitely want to have another HOST vote, but before they do that they want to get the law changed because they recognize the problems they had,” Mueller said. He said they would like to be able to put just one question on the ballot, and they’d like to be able to guarantee that 100 percent of HOST money would be used to roll back property taxes.
Babb said that if the Legislature is going to make changes to the HOST law, he’d like to see members of the Whitfield County delegation work to allow local voters to get a chance to dedicate part of the county’s sales tax to tax relief for homestead property owners.