Friday, December 16, 2016

Columbus voters keep property taxes frozen

One of the bigger property tax-related proposals on the ballot in Georgia this year was a repeal of the property assessment freeze in Columbus. Opponents of the freeze, including the Muscogee County school board and Columbus mayor Teresa Tomlinson, said that the freeze suppresses economic activity by discouraging home improvements and property sales. However, in the end, people weren't sold by the argument and chose to keep the freeze. Sixty percent of residents voted against a "thaw."

This is the third time that a repeal of the Columbus freeze has been defeated. It goes to show that a permanent freeze is difficult to tweak even if there are valid reasons to alter it. It also probably helps explain why DeKalb County's property tax freezes sunset every few years instead of being permanent. From the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer:
...If the referendum had passed, it would have kept the freeze in place for all who are currently under it, but would have put any homestead property bought after Jan. 1, 2017, under a more traditional fair market value system, where property is regularly reassessed. Those properties under the freeze would have remained so until they changed hands, whether by sale or probate. They would have then go into the fair market value system. Eventually, all frozen property would have changed hands and no property would have remained under the freeze.

The property tax assessment freeze was voted into effect in 1982. It freezes the assessed value of a homestead property at the value at the time of the sale and keeps it there until the property changes hands. It is then reassessed at the current value and again frozen at that value.

It has been challenged before, both at the polls and in the courts, and the challenges failed both times.

Voters initially approved the freeze by a 73-27 percent margin in 1982. A 1991 attempt to repeal the freeze by referendum failed by an 81-19 percent margin.

In the early 2000s, a group challenged the freeze’s constitutionality and won a favorable ruling at the Superior Court level. But the state and then federal supreme courts ruled it constitutional...

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