Columbus Council voted 9-1 to approve sending the new version of a referendum to thaw the property tax assessment freeze on the November ballot.
Council voted 6-3 in October to approve the original ballot question, but the General Assembly’s general counsel said that wording could present problems because it had too many elements within one ballot question.
After the city’s lawyers and the general counsel worked through a new question, it came back to council Tuesday night. The local legislative delegation still must put the question before the entire General Assembly for approval before it would be put on the ballot.
In the first 6-3 vote, Skip Henderson, Mike Baker, Mimi Woodson. Evelyn Turner-Pugh, Pops Barnes and Tom Buck approved sending it to the delegation. Bruce Huff, Judy Thomas and Gary Allen were opposed. Glenn Davis was absent that day.
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When I voted no (in October), I told the people around this table that I was voting no because of the legalities of the question. For me, that legality has been resolved.
Judy Thomas, Columbus Councilor
Tuesday night, Thomas and Allen changed their vote and Davis approved the measure. Only Huff remained in opposition.
Thomas said the fact that the concerns that she’d had with the original wording have been resolved and that the legislative counsel has signed off on the new wording lead her to change her vote.
“When I voted no (in October), I told the people around this table that I was voting no because of the legalities of the question,” Thomas said. “For me, that legality has been resolved. This is legal, from what I have been told by legislative counsel.”
Thomas and other councilors also stressed that the vote was not whether to lift the freeze, but whether to allow Columbus voters to have a say in the matter.
Under the tax freeze, homeowners with homestead exemptions have their home’s assessed value frozen at the time of their purchase. That value remains frozen until the home changes hands either by sale or probate. Under the proposed plan, all homeowners currently under the freeze would remain under it for as long as they own that property. Homeowners buying property after Jan. 1, 2017, would come in under the new fair market assessment program, similar to the vast majority of municipalities.
The initial ballot question would have given those homeowners an additional $6,500 in homestead exemption, bringing that exemption to $20,000. But that language had to be removed in order to get the approval of the legislative counsel.