Mayor Teresa Tomlinson outlined her proposal to sunset the city’s property tax assessment freeze and fielded a variety of questions from a crowd of 50-60 people Tuesday evening in the lobby of the Springer Opera House.
Residents asked about what effect thawing the freeze might have on their specific circumstances, what it might do for the city in the long run, what effect it might have on rental property and questioned whether the freeze hurt or helped senior citizens and the poor.
The freeze, which was implemented by referendum in 1982, locks a the value of an owner-occupied home at the time it is purchased. Under Tomlinson’s sunset plan, people who are under the freeze would remain under the freeze as long as they own their current home.
The proposal, which Tomlinson hopes to have on the 2016 November General Election ballot, would also increase the local homestead exemption from $13,500 to $20,000.
Doug Brabston challenged Tomlinson’s assertion that senior citizens might not be protected by the freeze.
“I think it would be more correct to say that seniors who choose to sell their houses are do not benefit from it,” Brabston said. “I’m a senior, and I benefit from it. Most of the people in my neighborhood are seniors and they benefit from it.”
Tomlinson said seniors who want to downsize later in life are often shocked at the amount of taxes they would have to pay on a house that’s considerably smaller than the one they raised their families in. She agreed that seniors who choose to stay in their homes benefit, but the determining factor is whether they live in their home for a long time, not their age or income.
Jim Allen said he has heard from many military people who say they will not buy a house in Columbus because of the freeze and its “welcome stranger” effect.
“We hear that a lot from people, regardless of age, who are coming into our community and are choosing to live in Russell, Lee and Harris county because of the disparity related to the tax system, the ‘welcome stranger’ aspect of it.” Tomlinson said.
Jason Gamache said he has been moving several times in the last few years and wondered how often homes are reassessed and whether there was any kind of cap in the plan to protect from runaway taxes.
Tomlinson said each piece of property is required to be reassessed once every three years. There is no cap on reassessment, but there is a cap on the millage rate, and that can be lowered to protect against runaway assessments.
Tomlinson explained to the audience that there are several steps the city must go through to get the proposal on the ballot next year. First Columbus Council must formally ask the local legislative delegation to ask the General Assembly to allow it, and the assembly as a whole must approve it.