Athens voters will decide in November whether to cut property taxes for homeowners, provided Gov. Brian Kemp signs a bill passed by the General Assembly.
House Bill 797 would increase Clarke County’s homestead tax exemption — already one of the highest in the state — from $10,000 to $25,000. In the case of owner-occupied residential property, the allowance of 40% of the assessment value of the residential property is deducted. For example, the owner of a $200,000 home would pay taxes on $25,000 instead of $40,000 if the measure is approved, saving the homeowner about $200. The increased homestead exemption would only apply to ACC taxes; it would remain at $10,000 for Clarke County School District taxes.
ACC commissioners originally called for a property tax freeze for low-income homeowners that would keep their appraised values the same until the property was sold. That’s still included for homeowners whose income is less than 200% of the poverty line, but Republican county legislatures also added the higher homestead exemption for all Clarke County homeowners.
“Real estate valuations have increased significantly,” said Rep. Houston Gaines (R-Athens). “I’ve heard from voters who are facing problems maintaining their homes.”
The bill failed to gain momentum during last year’s session, but gained momentum as this year’s session ended, passing the House of Representatives on March 29 and the Senate on April 1, a business day before the legislature adjourned for the year . Kemp will likely sign it, as he does for almost all local laws of this nature.
Although the idea originally came from the county commission, Mayor Kelly Girtz rejected the final version of the bill because it would cost ACC an estimated $3.2 million in revenue.
If the Commission were to increase the Millage rate to make up for the revenue shortfall, it would put a greater burden on businesses and residential and commercial property owners, who could pass it on to their tenants. But with the county’s tax balance sheet growing at 6-7% annually, Gaines sees no reason for the commission to raise the tax rate, especially given a $60 million inflow of federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act. “The county will only have a smaller increase in revenue,” he said.
Another bill Gaines co-sponsored authorizes the Classic Center Authority to display items formerly housed in the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in Macon in the new Classic Center arena. The hall’s memorabilia have been held in the UGA Special Collections Libraries since the museum closed in 2011 due to low attendance.
The legislature also passed legislation to abolish “free speech zones” at colleges and universities, meaning that Tate ministers can no longer access Tate Plaza (or two other free speech zones at Memorial Plaza and the Northwest Lawn of the Miller Learning Center) would be limited. Evangelical street preachers occasionally gather outside the Tate Student Center to proselytize and insult students with their sexist and homophobic statements.
In addition, the state budget approved by the Legislature includes partial funding for two new libraries in the area, one in the Wire Park development area in Watkinsville and another on the Eastside of Athens, most likely in either Southeast Clarke Park or the old Gaines School site.
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