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Georgia Senate committee debates property tax relief

Georgia Senator Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome) and Columbus-Muscogee County Chief Appraiser Suzanne Widenhouse were among those who testified at a Georgia Senate hearing on SB 349 on Jan. 22.
Georgia Senator Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome) and Columbus-Muscogee County Chief Appraiser Suzanne Widenhouse were among those who testified at a Georgia Senate hearing on SB 349 on Jan. 22.

Members of a Georgia Senate committee heard testimony yesterday on a bill seeking to lower property taxes by controlling skyrocketing property values. WUGA’s Martin Matheny explains.

Under the terms of Senate Bill 349, no matter how much your property value increases, the value you would be taxed on could increase by no more than three percent.

State Senator Chuck Hufstetler, a Republican from Rome, chairs the Senate Finance Committee, and is a sponsor of SB 349.

“We've seen property tax increases due to just solely assessed value on homeowners of 25, 30, even 40 percent,” Hufstetler told colleagues. “This addresses this by saying there can only be a three percent cap.”

Justin Pauly from the Georgia School Boards Association told lawmakers that his group had concerns about the three percent cap.

“Districts whose digest is largely residential would be hit particularly hard,” Pauly told lawmakers. “[SB 349] would create a system which places more of the responsibility for funding local services on new property owners if prices are rising and on local business owners. This could impact some economic development efforts.”

Suzanne Widenhouse is Chief Appraiser for Columbus-Muscogee County, which has a similar cap in place on the local level, although her county’s cap is zero percent, compared to the three percent proposed in SB 349.

“The freeze cost us about $56 million in tax revenue that had to come from somewhere else because the county's not spending less, they're still going to provide all of the wonderful services that we enjoy,” Widenhouse said.

Senator Brandon Beach, a member of the Finance Committee, was unsympathetic.

“These counties need to live within their means. I mean, you made the comment there's $56 million short, but they’ve got to to find the money somewhere. They're going to spend it and they need to look at cutting instead of spending,” Beach told Widenhouse.

The Republican-backed SB 349 should see a committee vote later in the legislative session.

Martin Matheny is WUGA's Program Director and a host and producer of our local news program 'Athens News Matters.' He started at WUGA in 2012 as a part-time classical music host and still hosts WUGA's longest-running local program 'Night Music' which is heard on WUGA and GPB Classical. He lives in Normaltown with his wife, Shaye and dog, Murphy.