Monday, August 29, 2016

GBI investigates improper homestead exemption

A Twiggs County commissioner allegedly attempted to "transfer" his disabled veterans exemption onto a house occupied by his son.  It is also alleged that he told a relative in the tax assessors office to make the change.  The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is looking into the case.

The disabled veterans property tax break is a statewide exemption available to a homeowner for their primary residence if they are considered 100 percent disabled by the federal Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).  Commissioner Tommie Lee Bryant is also accused of receiving the exemption for 20 years although he is considered 60 percent disabled.

During a Georgia Association of Tax Commissioners conference a couple of years ago, I heard a speaker from the Georgia Department of Veterans Service who argued that veterans who are compensated at a 100 percent level in terms of their benefits should also be granted the disabled veterans homestead exemption, even if they are not considered 100 percent disabled by the VA.  I think that is an appropriate standard if the applicant can document that he or she is being compensated at a 100 percent level.  From the news reports, it is difficult to tell whether or not Commissioner Bryant has that documentation.

I was somewhat surprised that the state has become involved in what looks at first glance to be an administrative question about property tax exemption eligibility.  However, using one's authority as a public official and influencing a relative to make the change probably escalated this case beyond the basic eligibility question.

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