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Hall commissioners chide Perdue over tax relief

Governor's budget proposal would eliminate statewide grant

POSTED: January 23, 2009 12:03 a.m.

Hall County Board of Commissioners Chairman Tom Oliver read a letter at the commission’s board meeting Thursday blasting Gov. Sonny Perdue for his proposal to withhold the Homeowner’s Tax Relief Grant.

The other four commissioners agreed with Oliver’s statement and plan to sign the letter before it is sent.

Faced with a nearly $2 billion revenue shortfall, Perdue has threatened to cut the Homeowners Tax Relief Grant, a state reimbursement to counties and cities of money they lose on property tax homestead exemptions.

After listing employee furloughs, a hiring freeze and other measures the county has taken to save money during the economic downturn, Oliver said he felt it was unfair for Perdue to withhold the grant money and increase taxes for families already struggling.

"Therefore, it is this county’s opinion that it is totally irresponsible for the governor, lt. governor and representatives to not uphold their pledge of sending the Homestead Exemption back to the county," Oliver wrote in the letter.

Commissioner Steve Gailey said he felt the state needs to cut other areas before eliminating the grant.

"We have done things the state hasn’t done yet to cut costs," Gailey said. "They need to make the futile effort to cut their waste out in their situations and look at maybe what we’ve done; maybe they’ll accomplish what they need to budgetwise. I find it appalling to know this board could be faced with the decision of having to send a tax bill out to constituents."

The state pays the grants to local governments, which are then supposed to pass them along to homeowners as tax credits. They average about $200 to $300 per household. Their loss could mean homeowners either could see their property taxes rise, or cities and counties might have to send out adjusted tax bills.

Also at the meeting, Tax Commissioner Keith Echols updated the commission on the county’s tax collections.

"We’ve had pretty good tax collections this year," Echols said.

More than 89 percent of the money owed to the county has been collected, Echols said, a far better figure than he expected due to the state of the economy.

"We’re in good shape," Echols said.

Collections are about 1.5 percent lower than they were in January 2008.

Echols said he also is trying to crack down on delinquent taxpayers to help the county’s revenues.

"I’m making a special effort to collect back taxes," Echols said.



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