Two sides of ‘Thaw the Freeze’ considered at forum

John Van Doorn of the Muscogee County Democratic Party looks on after posing questions to Nadine Moore at left and Mayor Teresa Tomlinson
John Van Doorn of the Muscogee County Democratic Party looks on after posing questions to Nadine Moore at left and Mayor Teresa Tomlinson

In a bid to “Thaw the Freeze,” Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson said it is a regressive tax and slows growth while supporter Nadine Moore said it prevents the city from taxing people out their homes.

The mayor and Moore joined more than 30 people at the City Services Center Tuesday to answer questions during a forum sponsored by the Muscogee County Democratic Party. On the Nov. 8 general election ballot, voters will get a chance to eliminate the frozen values on owner occupied homes and move to a fair market system or keep the freeze as it exists. Homeowners who have the freeze will keep it if the measure is approved, but all homes sold after Jan. 1 won’t benefit from the freeze that has been in effect since 1983.

Tomlinson described the assessment freeze as a Ponzi scheme for those who get in early. After 10-15 years, she said a resident will end up paying a 16 percent premium on top of what would be paid in a fair market system. It takes 14 years to get on the good side of the freeze in an owner occupied home, the mayor said. Homeowners living in homes valued at $800,000 are paying $400 in taxes while another in a home valued at $100,000 is paying $1,095 in taxes.

“If you changed houses or rented, you lose the freeze,” Tomlinson said. “ If you changed houses inside of 14 years, you will never get on the good side of the freeze.”

The mayor said 75 percent of homeowners and renters are paying for the 25 percent who are paying less in property taxes. “It’s very harmful to the city,” she said.

While the mayor noted population growth at just 1.5 percent over last 30 years or more, Moore said the city has grown from 90,000 in 1983 to more than 200,000 under the assessment freeze. The city also has more banks and two local option sales taxes generating more than $60 million a year.

With taxes frozen at move-in value, Moore said a homeowner has his or her own 401K property value to increase but the assessment is capped from taxing the growth. “They want to tax us out of our homes,” she said.

The city with the freeze also provides jobs in the region and health care at Midtown Medical Center.

When asked about the impact of the freeze on small businesses, Moore said homeowners know their tax bill under the freeze. If the freeze is removed, sales taxes will go flat in the city. “That’s basically what you are going to have,” she said.

Impact of keeping the freeze would be an impact on the real estate market, housing sales, construction, repairs and other work in the retail sector, Moore said.

When the real estate market crashed, Columbus had the third lowest rate of transfers in a state with 159 counties. “This is why we have such trouble recovering from a recession,” the mayor said.

The freeze keeps young professionals out, makes it hard for businesses to recruit and it strangles the workforce, Tomlinson said. The tax still has passed the test of time from voters and the Georgia Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court wouldn’t hear a challenge to the freeze.

“The Georgia Supreme Court said it’s a local stranger tax,” she said.