COLUMBUS, Ga. – Mayor Teresa Tomlinson has wrapped up her “Thaw the Freeze” public forums. Tomlinson is hoping to add a referendum to the November 2016 General Election ballot.
Her proposal is to “thaw” the city’s property tax freeze that has been on the books since 1982.
In basic terms, the freeze means when you buy a house in Columbus, your home value is frozen from that day on.
Mayor Tomlinson said it’s had a depressing effect on the city’s economy.
“With those types of findings, we need to take a very serious look at what sort of community we want to be in the future,” Tomlinson said. “Do we want to have a tax system in our community which deters people from moving in, penalizes people from moving up or down-sizing?”
This was the catalyst in her decision to host the public forums — to see how they community feels about what she calls an “outdated” tax system.
“Those that are most opposed to it are those who created the original tax freeze,” the mayor said. “And I think some of that is obviously because they felt like they did something tremendous at the time. And I think it was tremendous…at the time.”
As the housing needs of society have changed, so should the tax system, the Mayor would argue.
“We are, I believe, the only jurisdiction in America that taxes people on a value they can prove the no longer own,” Tomlinson said. “And there’s nothing fair about that.”
But changing a system that’s over 30 years old, won’t be easy, as the City Council has done battle with this issue before.
“A lot of the council has been through the wars of the past and I’m sure they’re very apprehensive about teeing this up again because it’s been so divisive in the past,” Tomlinson said. “And I hope they will allow the citizens the opportunity to direct our future.”
Meanwhile, opponents said this jeopardizes their security and they fear a ripple effect on other taxes may come from this change.
As for next steps, the City Council would have to request that the referendum be put on the November ballot. The Georgia State Legislature would also have to approve it.
If the referendum is approved, the current tax freeze would retire. This means those who are currently in it, would keep it. But new homeowners would be locked out and put on a new tax system.