A subcommittee of the Columbus Charter Review Committee is considering recommending that a “basic service fee” be put before voters which would address home owners who pay little or no taxes because of the city’s property tax assessment freeze, the subcommittee’s chairwoman reported Monday.
Audrey Tilman, chairwoman of he subcommittee charged with reviewing the charter’s section on taxes and revenue, told the commission Monday that her panel discussed the inequity of some taxpayers paying for their city services and those of others.
“We had some discussion about those home owners, who do not pay much in the way of property taxes,” said Tilman, chairwoman of the subcommittee charged with reviewing the section on taxes and revenue. “We thought about the possibility of assessing a basic services fee, across the board.”
Stressing that the idea was only in the discussion stage in a subcommittee, Tilman used $500 as an example. Those taxpayers who already pay $500 or more would not be assessed the fee. Those paying less would be assessed the difference between what they pay and $500.
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She said her subcommittee did not have enough information to estimate how much the fee would generate or how many people would be affected. But she added that she has asked city Finance Director Pam Hodge to run those numbers for the panel’s next meeting.
“I think the number is going to be considerable,” she said. “I think that it will be a pretty significant, should we recommend that. And I’m not saying right now that we are. I’m just saying that it’s an opportunity that a subcommittee believes is worthy of investigation.”
Current numbers are not available, but in political debates over the issue, it has been reported that 12,000 Columbus households paid no property taxes because of the freeze.If 12,000 home owners suddenly paid $500, it would mean a $6 million windfall for the Consolidated Government.
Asked for his assessment of the idea’s legality, City Attorney Clifton Fay said such a fee is possible, if it’s crafted properly.
“If you’re going to recommend some kind of a household fee or a partial fee, it can’t be an ad valorem tax, because that’s controlled by state law,” Fay told the commission. ”We do have a garbage fee. I’m not saying you can’t do some sort of a county-wide fee to cover basic services. But it would have to be something other than an ad valorem tax.”
Mayor Teresa Tomlinson called the idea “interesting” and potentially “volatile.”
“This is the first I’ve heard of it,” the mayor said. “I need to hear more about it before I can offer an opinion.“This is something that could be very interesting to the citizens, and something that might be quite volatile.”