Ballot measure could increase Dalton homestead exemption amounts

Mar. 7—The Dalton City Council voted 3-0 on Monday to ask the state legislature to allow the city to place on the November ballot a referendum on whether to increase homestead exemption grants for elderly residents of the city.

Council member Tyree Goodlett was absent, and Mayor David Pennington typically votes only if there is a tie.

"These are (for) exemptions that are already on the books," said City Administrator Andrew Parker.

The city currently provides a homestead exemption of $75,000 to those 65 and older with a gross income of less than $35,000 a year. The resolution, if approved by voters, would increase that to $150,000. The city provides a homestead exemption of $150,000 to those 70 and older regardless of income. The resolution would increase that to $250,000.

Parker said after studying the issue and consulting council members he and city staff believe increasing the homestead exemption is the best way to protect "those who need it most" from property tax increases caused by rising property assessments.

Parker said the homestead exemption increases, assuming the current property tax rate and assessment values, would cost the city government about $92,000 in revenue annually. If voters approve the referendum the new homestead exemption rates would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2024, so it would not affect this year's taxes.

Council member Steve Farrow asked if legislation to put the referendum on the ballot could pass in this session given that Monday was Crossover Day, the last day for one chamber of the legislature to pass a bill and send it to the other chamber. Parker said local legislation such as this is not affected by Crossover Day limits.

The proposed resolution would affect only the homestead exemptions for city government property taxes. Dalton Public Schools Chief of Staff Pat Holloway said Tuesday the Board of Education plans to vote Monday on a resolution that would mirror the city's measure and increase the homestead exemptions for school taxes.

Last year, preliminary assessments showed the assessed value of residential properties rose an average of 22% in Whitfield County. Commercial and industrial assessments rose an average of 15%.

The assessments are set by the county Board of Assessors. Members of that board are appointed by the county Board of Commissioners but the assessors are independent of the county and have to follow rules and regulations set by the state.

In September, representatives from the Dalton and Whitfield County public school systems, the city of Dalton and Whitfield County asked the Board of Assessors to hold property assessments at their 2021 levels to protect homeowners and to give them time to find long-term solutions to soaring reassessments.

In February, the county Board of Commissioners formally requested a piece of local legislation before the state legislature that would limit assessments from increasing more than 6% in any one year or 14% in any three-year period on any properties that have a homestead exemption.

That would set as the base for an assessment the lowest assessed value in the years 2021-2023 for exemptions granted in 2024. After 2024, when homeowners applied for homestead, their base would be the home's current market value the year that they applied. After a home is sold, the purchase price would become the base.

If approved by the legislature and signed by the governor this year, that measure would be placed on the ballot in November for county voters to give final approval to or reject.