Welcome to the land of unintended consequences. Population: You.
Columbia County taxpayers - and others all over the state - could wind up paying more in taxes to make up for problems with a law designed, ironically, to provide tax relief.
Newly enacted House Bill 233 places a two-year moratorium on property tax reassessments. Who could complain about a two-year reprieve on tax increases corresponding with rising property values?
But like a late-night infomercial: Wait! There's more!
Anything but simple, the unforeseen complexities of the law mean local communities like Columbia County - but not Richmond County, which isn't subject to the law - will hit significant delays in mailing out tax-assessment notices.
That means a holdup in sending out tax bills, which can't take place until 45 days after assessment notices are sent. That, in turn, will delay tax payments to the county.
There won't be any corresponding delay in the county government's expenses, however. Teachers and janitors alike still expect paychecks; Georgia Power will want to get paid for keeping the lights on.
All of that, and more, costs Columbia County's school system about $15 million each month. An expected delay in tax receipts is forcing school officials to consider borrowing money to keep those lights on, with the additional cost of interest for those loans.
Tiding the system over entirely with money from its hefty reserve fund isn't an option, either; that $26 million just isn't enough.
So why is the "freeze" so complicated? With assessments "frozen" at last year's levels, can't officials just send out last year's bills?
Nope. HB 233's assessment moratorium applies only to property that doesn't change hands. If it's sold, the property is reassessed based on fair-market value. The freeze also doesn't apply to property whose value has fallen.
Counties aren't prepared for these differences in taxation. It's an unfunded mandate; HB 233 didn't include funding to offset the cost of complying with the new state law, such as reprogramming hundreds of tax-office computer systems.
This is just the leading edge of potential mischief that comes when politicians attempt to pander for votes by monkeying with the free market. We won't know the extent of the cost to the state's taxpayers, or the additional cuts in services during an already tough economy, until next year's budgets are put together.
Oh, and by the way: That's also when those taxpayers also will be getting hit with an additional tax bill of about $200 because the state is eliminating the Homeowners Tax Relief Grant.
With much more "relief" like this, we'll all soon be in the poorhouse.
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