Hide & Seek In Your Property Taxes - By Joel Aaron
There may be things happening on your property that you aren’t aware of and, yes, they are disturbing. Currently, if you own property in one of a number of Georgia counties, you may be paying for things on your property tax bill that aren’t related to property taxes.
House Bill 159 aims to clear up a billing scheme that is being used by up to 1/4 of Georgia’s 159 counties. Several counties around Georgia use your property tax bill as a debt collection tool for nearly a dozen identified non-tax fees like sewage, nuisance abatement, street lights, speed humps and sanitation fees. The bill simply states that property taxes and only property taxes should appear on our property tax bills. The simple change will go a long way toward protecting property rights and creating a ripple affect that benefits taxpayers.
The current practice makes it harder to, among other things, qualify for a home by creating artificial hurdles due to non-tax fee inclusions in underwriting requirements. In practice, it will reduce monthly mortgage payments for those with escrow accounts by excluding non-applicable fees from escrow calculations. It protects property owners from unintentional IRS penalties due to erroneous filing of personal income taxes and reduces the likelihood of a lien against one’s home, pursuant to these mistakes. And it strengthens private property protections by removing the direct attachment of a fee from the property resulting in debt collection in a traditional judicial process.
State Representative Brett Harrell, the bill’s author, explains that local governments complain the change will increase administrative costs because they use property tax bills as a means of consolidation to keep mailing costs lower; however, if the cost of a stamp or an extra sheet of invoice paper included in a mailing is enough to “freeze a program into the red,” Harrell argues it is probably not a good program to be administering through government anyway. Local governments also suggest that the change would create a rise in delinquency; however, it is not right for a government to force a private property owner to shoulder the risk through exposure to a possible lien in order to safeguard the government from delinquency.
The end result of HB 159 empowers property owners and lessens the tax burden while encouraging honesty and transparency in local government. Property taxes and only property taxes should appear on your property tax bill.