Bibb lawmakers wrangle over homestead property tax proposal

mlee@macon.comMarch 7, 2014 

ATLANTA ­­-- A state House of Representatives bill that could cut property taxes for some of Bibb County’s poorest homeowners has run into adverse winds in the Senate because of what it could cost Macon-Bibb County and the local school system.

House Bill 893, authored by state Rep. James Beverly, D-Macon, proposes a public referendum on a $30,000 homestead property tax exemption on owner-occupied houses worth $85,000 or less if the household’s income is $30,000 or less.

He’s concerned with longtime residents getting priced out of gentrifying areas such as the College Hill area of Macon.

“How do we get them a tax incentive to stay in their homes and stabilize neighborhoods?” said Beverly of his bill, which moved through the House with his signature as well as those of another Democrat and two Republicans.

It’s hard to say how much the bill would cost taxpayers, in part because the consolidated Macon-Bibb has yet to decide exactly how it will value or tax properties inside and outside the old Macon city limits. And of Macon-Bibb’s approximately 10,500 owner-occupied homes valued at $85,000 or less, it’s not clear how many have a household income low enough to qualify for the proposed break.

The exemption Beverly proposes, if applied at $10,000 on all those houses, would mean the county and the schools together losing about $1.1 million annually, according to the costliest scenario estimated by Macon-Bibb. That assumes total property taxes -- county and school taxes together -- at nearly 33 mils.

Beverly’s proposed exemption would be three times as big ­-- $30,000 -- but he thinks changes in taxation after consolidation and other factors could still keep the cost at about $1 million annually.

State Sen. Cecil Staton, R-Macon, said he applauds Beverly’s idea and is generally in favor of tax cuts as long as they don’t trigger an equivalent rise somewhere else. Lower taxes give people the kind of financial relief that entices them to stay in Macon-Bibb, he said.

But it may be a “difficult” thing to accomplish this year, said Staton, because of the legal requirement for Macon-Bibb to spend 20 percent less by July 2018 than they both did before consolidation. Staton himself insisted on the savings in the city-county charter.

“I think we’re still struggling to come to grips with the fiscal impact,” Staton said.

Fellow state Sen. David Lucas, D-Macon, said he’s not going to sign the bill. Lucas is opposed to mandated cost savings in the new Macon-Bibb government.

“I always said it would cause problems,” Lucas said. “I don’t want to put the new government under those circumstances” to find more money now.

Bibb County schools are planning to tap $7.2 million in reserve funds under its draft budget for the year beginning this July. Halfway through Macon-Bibb’s 2014 fiscal year, sales tax receipts are down compared to the same time the year before.

But Beverly said the $1.1 million figure related to the exemption he seeks is about 1 percent of Macon-Bibb’s expected spending.

“Now is the time, when everything is up in the air, to actually make the move and figure out how we manage the budget to make it work,” rather than waiting until after other stakes are claimed, he said.

The referendum would appear on the November ballot if Beverly’s bill becomes law. The state’s legislative session is scheduled to end March 20.

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report.

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