A bill introduced in the Georgia General Assembly last week by state Rep. Brett Harrell would prohibit municipalities from adding non-tax fees to property tax bills. Harrell initially introduced the bill in 2011 with nearly 60 co-signers.
“Too often citizens across Georgia experience increased property tax bills, higher monthly mortgage payments, and, in some cases, liens against their property, all resulting from the addition of non-tax fees added to their property tax bills,” Harrell said. “The type and number of fees continues to increase each year. This legislation will help ease the burden on Georgia households and increase government transparency.”
Harrell said House Bill 159 addresses a growing concern among property owners statewide as home prices remain low. He said Georgians have to carefully budget their money and it doesn't help to have to face increasing property tax bills.
The municipalities, however, argue that fees are bills that have to be paid - such as for the sanitation services in Gwinnett that caused so much controversy when first introduced. took on the county on this issue last year, claiming it was illegal and unconstitutional to collect fees for sanitation services on property tax bills. His lawsuit was not successful, but is currently under appeal and awaiting a ruling from the Georgia Supreme Court. Gwinnett County officials cautioned that a change in the system could actually end up costing some taxpayers more in the long run.
When Mesteller filed his appeal, Gwinnett County communications director Joe Sorenson said a new billing system would have to be created if sanitation services could no longer be collected on property tax bills - and that it would be costly. In addition, the payment rate was about 99 percent for property taxes and significantly lower for other services. He said the higher rate of non-payment would be a liability for the other paying customers.
"The higher the rate of non-payment, the greater the burden on those who pay,” Sorenson said at the time, adding it was unfortunate but those who pay their bills faithfully would wind up paying for those who do not.
But there are other problems associated with collecting non-tax fees this way, Harrell says.
"Though millage rates and property value assessments may not change, non-tax fees for local expenses like street lights, speed bumps, storm water, and sanitation can add hundreds of dollars to a property tax bill. In fact, it is not uncommon for as much as 15-20 percent of a total property tax bill to originate from non-tax fees," Harrell said. "Further, while property owners can legally deduct property taxes from their income taxes, the IRS has indicated that these non-tax fees are not tax deductible. The inclusion of these non-tax fees on property tax bills, therefore, increases the opportunity for Georgia residents to accidentally file erroneous income tax returns."
Harrell said HB 159 would solve this problem by allowing property owners to clearly distinguish between taxes and fees. More information on HB 159, can be found here.
Rep. Brett Harrell represents citizens of District 106, which includes portions of City of Snellville, Grayson, Lawrenceville, and Loganville in Gwinnett County. He was elected into the House of Representatives in 2010 and currently serves as the Vice Chairman on the Budget and Fiscal Affairs Oversight Committee. He also serves on the Regulated Industries, Transportation, and Ways & Means committees.