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Oconee commissioners pitch tax plan, but passing it won't be easy

Members of the Oconee County Board of Commissioners: (l to r) Amrey Harden, Mark Thomas, John Daniell, Chuck Horton, Mark Saxon
Oconee County government
Members of the Oconee County Board of Commissioners: (l to r) Amrey Harden, Mark Thomas, John Daniell, Chuck Horton, Mark Saxon

Voters in Oconee County will have the chance to vote for lower property taxes next month, but they’ll have to sort through ten different ballot questions to do it.

The package of property tax reforms proposed by Oconee County commissioners would do two things. First, it would dramatically increase the county’s homestead exemption. Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell explained the plan at a town hall meeting earlier this month.

"The minimum homestead exemption required by the state is $2,000 and we're going to add $3,000 to that to make it a $5,000 homestead exemption. That is for every homesteaded property in Oconee County," Daniell said. "Then, if all 10 ballot questions are approved, that $5,000 will be increased by another $5,000 for a total of $10,000 on every homesteaded property in Oconee County."

Homestead exemptions for senior citizens in Oconee County would surge even higher, to as much as $15,000.

The proposal would also eliminate the county’s current opt-in homestead exemption programs for senior citizens and automatically enroll them when they become eligible.

Just over 17% of the county is over the age of 65, according to 2023 census data.

The process to bring the tax cuts into existence will be complicated. In order for the new homestead exemption changes to go into effect, voters will have to vote in favor of ten different items on their May 21 ballot.
If even one of those ten items doesn’t pass, then the whole package dies.

Some Oconee residents at the meeting had tough questions about the timing of the vote, however. The package of measures is on the May primary ballot rather than the November general election, when turnout will be significantly higher. That led to criticism from some at the meeting.

A somewhat testy Daniell responded to one of those criticisms by suggesting that people look at primary election turnout in the county, seemingly implying that it isn't much lower than general election turnout.

But according to election results from the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, some 11,200 voters participated in the 2020 primary election, compared to over 25,000 who voted in the 2020 general election.

Daniell also noted that implementing the policy, if all ten items pass, will take time. That was a factor influencing the choice of a May vote rather than a November one, he said.

The ten property tax-related items will be on the ballot on May 21. Early voting begins next Monday.

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.