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Governments could be scrambling to make up lost revenue
Perdue wants to freeze reimbursement for homestead exemption
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Hall County officials met Wednesday with state Rep. Carl Rogers to discuss a possible loss of property tax revenue and a budget that keeps getting tighter.

Rogers, who represents part of Hall County, discussed the predicament local governments are in after Gov. Sonny Perdue proposed holding the Homeowners Tax Relief Grant and cutting other spending last week.

Facing a budget crunch estimated at about $1.6 billion, the state could hold the Homeowners Tax Relief Grant, which is a state reimbursement to counties and cities of money they lose on the homestead exemption on property taxes, said Hall County public information officer Nikki Young.

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, Young said.

The Homeowners Tax Relief Grant is basically a way to keep property taxes lower without reducing local government revenues.

"The state has put in place a homestead exemption of $8,000, which reduces the property tax revenue that the county receives. (The Homeowners Tax Relief Grant) is the state’s initiative to reduce the property tax. And they reimburse us (Hall County) for that lost revenue," Assistant County Administrator Phil Sutton said.

If the grant is frozen, Hall County would be looking at a $2.5 million revenue loss, and the county school system would face a $5 million loss.

With a budget that is already tight because of lost revenue and high gas prices, the county would have to find a way to raise the funds.

"If they don’t reimburse us for the lost revenue, then there’s two options. Either we have to reduce our budget and somehow come up with the $2.5 million ... to balance the budget or we would have to send out a second tax bill, whenever that happened, to recover the money and balance the budget," Sutton said.

Rogers told local officials that state departments are cutting as much as they can.

He also said Perdue cannot solely make the decision to eliminate the grant, he can only hold the funds until the matter goes before the General Assembly.

"The governor can’t hold the money forever," Rogers said. "It’s a challenging time for all of us. It’s a trying time, but we’ll survive."

Though no decisions have been made, Hall County Board of Commissioners Chairman Tom Oliver said the commission decided to hold the conference with Rogers to inform the public that officials are paying attention to the current situation.

"We just want to be proactive," Oliver said.

Perdue has proposed $1.6 billion in reductions in the state budget, Sutton said, and the Homeowners Tax Relief Grant and other funding could be cut by the General Assembly, which would begin its regular session in January.

Oliver said he thinks if the cuts are made, the state would be placing a huge burden on local governments in a time when resources are scarce for everyone.

"My complaint is Sonny Perdue arbitrarily picked this (the Homeowners Tax Relief Grant) and said, ‘This is the quickest and easiest way to trim the deficit at the state level. We’ll just tell the county commissions and school board members too bad, y’all got to make up the difference because we couldn’t manage our budget at the state level,’" Oliver said.

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