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Property tax bills will go out on time

Grant from state still in question

POSTED: August 15, 2008 5:01 a.m.

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Though Gov. Sonny Perdue is delaying the Homeowner Tax Relief Grant, for now, tax bills will be sent out as usual, said Hall County Tax Commissioner Keith Echols.

The Homeowner Tax Relief Grant is a state reimbursement to counties and cities for the money they lose on the homestead property tax exemption.

Faced with a $1.6 billion dollar revenue shortfall, Perdue is considering cuts, including the $428 million Homeowner Tax Relief Grant, to balance the state budget. "Hall County was supposed to get theirs this month," Echols said of the $2.5 million Hall was expecting to receive.

If the state holds onto the funds, there could be a $50 local property tax increase for a $150,000 home and a $195 total tax increase, including state, county, school and fire taxes, said Nikki Young, Hall County public information officer.

For now, the grant has been delayed, but when the General Assembly meets in January, a decision will be made as to whether Hall will receive its grant money this year.

However, tax bills are sent out at the end of September. "As of right now the tax bills are going out on time," Echols said, acknowledging the possibility of a second billing if the Homeowner Tax Relief Grant is withheld.

Not only would additional taxes be costly to residents, but a second billing would hurt the county financially. "That would probably cost (Hall County) another $50,000 to rebill," Echols said.

Though no one knows for sure, Echols predicted Hall would get the Homeowner Tax Relief Grant money by the end of December.

"I don’t believe this is going to happen," this year, he said, but thought it was likely the grant would be reduced or eliminated within the next year or two.

There are no answers yet, and Perdue’s press secretary Bert Brantley said a lot depends on the economy.

"A lot of this will depend on what revenues look like over the next few months," Brantley said. "All of this is being driven by what the economy’s doing."

He said while cutting the Homeowner Tax Relief Grant is not ideal, it could be necessary, and he wants people to understand why. "Cutting $1.6 billion out of the state’s budget is incredibly difficult. There’s going to be some tough decisions," Brantley said.

"We’re going to roll up our sleeves and do what every Georgian’s doing right now and prioritize. I want people to understand the rationale behind these decisions."

State Rep. Carl Rogers said some other local grants also could be on the chopping block. Local assistance grants totaling $6 million statewide were approved by the governor back in April, but are also being delayed for consideration.

Rogers said among those were grants in the $10,000 to $20,000 range for Enota and Gainesville elementary schools, the Northeast Georgia History Center and Field of Dreams, a proposed baseball field for children with disabilities.

"Those grants are very important to local communities," Rogers said.



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