The Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission will ask state legislators to authorize a property tax freeze for low-income homeowners in Athens and put it up for a popular vote in November.
The commission unanimously approved a resolution Jan. 7 asking state legislators to approve a referendum on a property tax freeze for Athens homeowners whose income is less than 150% of the poverty line. That amounts to about $18,000 for an individual or $37,000 for a family of four.
“This is basically going to help low income Athenians stay in their homes,” Commissioner Tim Denson said. “That is something we’ve seen is a great need. Many neighborhoods in our community are being gentrified, and individuals—maybe a home they’ve lived in or inherited—are having a hard time staying in their house because of drastically rising property taxes.”
Commissioners Jerry NeSmith, Melissa Link and Mariah Parker also spoke in favor of the resolution. “A lot of folks in my neighborhood are feeling the squeeze, and this will be a huge burden off their shoulders if we can get the local legislative delegation to bring this to a referendum,” said Parker, who represents some of those gentrifying neighborhoods in East Athens.
Officials don’t know yet how much tax revenue would be lost if the freeze is implemented, but those kinds of details can be worked out once the legislation passes, NeSmith said.
State Rep. Spencer Frye (D-Athens) will work with Tax Commissioner Toni Meadow on the bill, Mayor Kelly Girtz said. If passed and signed by Gov. Brian Kemp, it will be on the November ballot.
In other business:
• the commission voted to seek input from Athens in Motion—the committee overseeing the ACC bike and pedestrian master plan—on proposed e-scooter regulations. E-scooters have been banned in Athens since December 2018, a few months after Bird unceremoniously dropped several hundred of the devices on the city, leading to problems with riders illegally using sidewalks and weaving in and out of traffic.
• the commission voted to approve an agreement with the Athens Housing Authority to hire an architect for the North Athens Project, which will turn the run-down Bethel Midtown Village and surrounding AHA- and ACC-owned properties just north of downtown into a mixed-use development with public, subsidized and market-rate housing.
• the commission named Russell Edwards mayor pro tem for 2020, replacing NeSmith. The mayor pro tem advises the mayor on commission agendas and fills in for him when the mayor is unavailable.
• Girtz announced that he will soon name a nominating committee for the Athens Music Walk of Fame. The first 10 plaques honoring contributors to the local music scene are scheduled to be laid on the West Washington Street sidewalk this summer.
• Link and Denson will host a town hall meeting on the proposed west end downtown historic district at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 28 at Flicker Theatre & Bar.
• Parker requested that Odd Street be renamed for Rosa Nell Howard, a resident who was the oldest woman in Athens when she died last year at age 108.