City DopeNews

A Referendum to Cut Athens Homeowners’ Property Taxes Is on the Ballot

Stock photo by Karolina Grabowska.

Athens homeowners of all income levels could be paying less in property tax if voters pass a referendum to do so this November. 

Sponsored by Rep. Houston Gaines (R-Athens), House Bill 797 has two parts. For all homeowners, the amount of their homestead exemption will rise to $25,000 from $10,000, applying to ACC taxes only, not the school portion. That’s $10,000 more than what some county commissioners wanted. If the referendum passes, a homeowner with a home valued at $200,000 would save about $200. The measure would cost the county an estimated $3.2 million in property taxes.

“There’s going to be a loss of revenue,” said Athens-Clarke County Commissioner  Melissa Link. “We’ll have to see what revenues look like when we’re figuring the budget.”

For low-income homeowners, the referendum also freezes the assessed value of their houses. Those who qualify need to have incomes less than 200% of the federal poverty level. For a single person living in the house, that would mean an income of less than $18,000; for two, less than $36,000; for three, less than $46,000; for four, less than $52,000. The value of the house would rise only when it is sold.

The late commissioner Jerry Nesmith advocated for some type of property tax relief for homeowners for years, said Link. Nesmith, along with commissioners Mike Hamby and Allison Wright, wanted to have the homestead exemption increased from $10,000 to $15,000, according to Wright. A homestead exemption is deducted from 40% of the home’s assessed value, reducing the taxes owed.

Last year, at quarterly neighborhood meetings of the Athens Land Trust, homeowners talked about their astronomical property taxes. Many people were retired, on fixed incomes, and were worrying about how to pay their tax bills. It was doubtful that anyone would succeed at lowering their taxes by appealing them, given the number of houses sold at inflated prices in their neighborhoods, then demolished and replaced with much larger dwellings.     

Eventually, Gaines and Rep. Spencer Frye (D-Athens) worked out a legislative solution. 

“We worked in a bipartisan way to get this done, and it took only a year, but it passed unanimously,” Gaines said. “I hope it helps people stay in their homes.”