Homestead grant loss to bump taxes
Property owners to see higher bills later this year

COVINGTON - Tax Commissioner Barbara Dingler is warning Newton County homeowners to brace themselves for higher taxes.

The state Homestead Tax Relief Grant that in the past has funded an additional homestead exemption will not be available this year.

"Declining state revenues during the current recession means there is no money for the state to give the tax relief to homeowners," Dingler said.

That means that homeowners can expect to see a property tax increase of between $200 and $300 on bills that will go out later this year, she said.

The Homestead Tax Relief Grant is an additional $8,000 exemption which became law on April 15, 1999. The amount of the credit is fixed each year through the General Appropriations Act. The credit is deducted directly from a homeowners' homestead property tax bill and is reimbursed to the counties, cities and school systems by the state of Georgia.

Due to a drastic decline in state revenues, the General Assembly opted not to fund the grant for fiscal year 2010, which begins July 1, and passed a bill stating it would be made available in the future only if state revenues increase by at least 3 percent plus the rate of inflation.

Dingler said homeowners should prepare now for an increase in taxes. Bills will be sent out by July 20 and will be due by Sept. 20 and Dec. 20, assuming the Board of Commissioners and Board of Education have adopted millage rates and the tax digest is approved by the Department of Revenue by that time, Dingler said.

"It's unfortunate in slow economic times to have to deliver this message, but homeowners need to know now so they can plan accordingly with their household budgets or make sure that tax escrows are properly funded with their mortgage companies to handle the tax increases," Dingler said.

Property owners will continue to receive local homestead exemptions.

Though most residential property owners have seen a decrease in property assessments this year, those who receive a regular homestead exemption won't see a decrease in taxes, even if the millage rate stays at the current 9.73 mills, unless they've seen a decline in value of $20,000, Dingler said.

The exception could be senior citizens who qualified for extra exemptions, assuming their property values decrease, she said.

Despite higher bills, Dingler said she expects tax collections will remain high.

She said 94.58 percent of taxes have been collected for 2008; 98.65 percent for 2007 and 99.89 percent for 2006.

"For tax year 2009, I do not anticipate a problem in collections," she said.