Mayor Teresa Tomlinson will hold the final of four summer forums espousing her effort to “thaw” the city’s’ property tax assessment freeze Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the Columbus Public Library on Macon Road.
Under the city’s property tax assessment freeze, which was implemented in 1982, the property taxes of homes receiving a homestead exemption are based upon the value of the home at the time it is purchased. That value is then “frozen” or fixed until the property is substantially altered or sold, at which time the value of the home is reassessed and then frozen again at the new value.
The freeze creates significant dispatities among homeowners, depending on how long they’ve owned their homes. Long-time owners can pay a fraction of the taxes that a more recent homeowner pays for an identical house next door. It also costs the city millions in potential revenue every year.
Past efforts to lift the freeze at the ballot box and in the courts have failed, but Tomlinson said her plan is different because it does not involve removing the freeze. Under her plan, anyone currently under the freeze would be able to stay on it for as long as they desire. When their house changes hands through a sale or when they die, it would then come out from under the freeze.
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Her proposal also includes a substantial increase in the homestead exemption, raising it from the current $13,500 to $20,000.
Tomlinson’s three previous forums were held at Canaan Baptist Church in south Columbus, the Springer Opera House downtown and the Comer Center in Bibb City.
Tomlinson has said she hopes to have a referendum on her proposal on the November 2016 General Election ballot, but will need the cooperation of Columbus Council and the local legislative delegation to accomplish that. Tomlinson said the General Election in a presidential election year would provide the largest participation in the referendum.
“That’s the time we feel we’ll have the largest turnout,” Tomlinson said. “So as many people as possible who would like to protect those who currently have the freeze, but still move forward with a new tax system, can vote.”