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Time nears to pay, and vote on, tax

The property tax referendum as viewed on a sample ballot.
The property tax referendum as viewed on a sample ballot.

It’s almost time for Muscogee County property owners to pay up, again.

“Almost,” because this year they’ll get a break for a couple of days on paying the first installment of their 2016 property taxes, which usually are due by Oct. 1.

But this year Oct. 1 will be Saturday, and you can’t pay your taxes when the tax commissioner’s office is closed for the weekend, so the deadline’s extended to Monday.

Those who pay in person will want to get there during the regular office hours, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday. The office is in Columbus’ City Services Center at 3111 Citizens Way, off Macon Road by the public library. Anyone with questions may call 706-653-4211 or email dfloyd@columbusga.org.

As always, residents can pay all the taxes due or pay in two installments. At least 40 percent of the total is due by Oct. 3, with the remaining 60 percent due Dec. 1, which falls on a Thursday this year.

Homeowners whose property taxes are paid out of an escrow account should forward bills to their mortgage companies.

If they don’t pay by the deadline, a penalty is added to the total due.

Owner-occupied homes are assessed for taxes based on 40 percent of their fair market value, minus a $13,500 local homestead exemption and $2,000 state homestead exemption. So a home worth $200,000 would be assessed at 40 percent of that, or $80,000, minus the exemptions, bringing the taxable value to $64,500.

The millage rate – a tax rate of $1 for every $1,000 of value – varies depending on where the home is located, as different parts of the city get differing levels of city services.

Not receiving a tax bill in the mail does not excuse an owner from paying the taxes due by the deadline. Anyone who wants to check the property’s fair market value and the tax due can search an online database maintained by the tax assessor’s office.

It’s www.columbusga.org/TaxAssessors/propertysearch.htm

The tax commissioner’s office will take cash, checks or money orders, but not credit cards. Checks should be payable to the Muscogee County Tax Commissioner. The address is P.O. Box 1441, Columbus, Ga., 31902-1441. Taxpayers mailing a payment must get it postmarked by Oct. 3 to meet the deadline.

As has been much in the news lately, Columbus has what we call the “tax freeze,” which freezes the taxable value of an owner-occupied home as assessed at the date of its last sale. That law is up for a vote this year, as a ballot measure proposes a “sunset” of the assessment freeze.

That means if voters approved the referendum, the tax freeze would not immediately disappear. Those who have it would keep it until their property sells again, but those who buy homes after Jan. 1 wouldn’t have their property’s assessed value frozen. The property regularly would be reassessed to determine its fair market value.

This way all property currently under the freeze eventually would change hands until no owner-occupied homes remained under the freeze.

Titled “Special Election” at the bottom of the ballot, here’s how the measure reads:

“Shall the Act be approved which eliminates the current base year assessed value homestead exemption for purposes of Muscogee County school and consolidated city-county government ad valorem taxes for homestead property acquired after January 1, 2017?”

Voting “yes” is to favor ending the freeze for those who buy homes after Jan. 1. Voting “no” is to favor maintaining the freeze for all homeowners, old and new.

Residents who get mail-in absentee ballots already are voting. Early in-person voting begins Oct. 17 and ends Nov. 4 at the City Services Center. The hours are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. All county voting precincts will be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 8.

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