Two former state legislators and original supporters of the city’s property tax assessment freeze attended Mayor Teresa Tomlinson’s fourth and final summer forum promoting her proposal to “thaw” the freeze.
Former state Sen. Seth Harp and former state Rep. Gary Cason both spoke in opposition to the mayor’s proposal during Wednesday evening’s forum at the Columbus Public Library.
Under the freeze the property taxes of homes under a homestead exemption are based on the value of the home at the time it is purchased. That value is 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.
Under Tomlinson’s proposal, anyone currently under the freeze would be able to stay under 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.
Harp, who said he was “instrumental” in the passage of the freeze in 1982, said he “respectfully disagrees” with Tomlinson’s proposal.
“The property tax freeze is fine because it protects homeowners,” Harp said. “I know you and I disagree on that. But if I buy a home today, I know what my property taxes are going to be next year, and 20 years from now.”
Harp said the freeze was a protection from the hyper-inflation occuring in the early ‘80s, which he said could return under current economic circumstances.
Cason said he introduced the legislation in the Georgia House that created the tax freeze.
“It was because of assessments that kept going up, skyrocketing,” Cason said, then pointed out how the same thing is currently happening in the metro Atlanta area. He said assessments in Atlanta proper are up 19 to 27 percent and in the suburb of Decatur, they’re up between 30-35 percent.
Another resident, Rebecca Davenport, said she is suffering from just the opposite problem. She bought her house in Mohina Woods for $203,000 and it’s now assessed at about $135,000, but she is still being taxed on the original value.
Tomlinson said when she was first running for mayor in 2010, that was a common complaint she heard from residents whose homes had lost value in the Great Recession of 2008. But the city has no choice but to charge the higher taxes because the assessment is frozen by law.
The last resident to speak in the forum, 19-year-old Anna Davenport, said she was born and raised in Columbus and is currently a student at Georgia Tech. She said the freeze, which makes new homeowners carry a much larger share of the property tax burden, is hardly an incentive for her to return to her hometown when she graduates.
“You can look at me and see that I could be your daughter or your niece,” Davenport said. “What incentive would there be for me to move back? Sure I want to be next to my mom. She’s going to show me how not to make the baby cry. But I can just move to (an adjacent) county.
“Sure, there’s the quality of life stuff that people of my generation love to do. But I can still enjoy that from another area.”
Davenport said the city shouldn’t expect young people and newcomers to bear a disproportionate share of the tax burden.
“When you think about this, don’t think about just your interests,” Davenport said. “Think about your kids. Do you want them to move back to Columbus?”