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Here are the details about a state bill that could give some relief to Forsyth County taxpayers

Local legislators introduced a new bill to the state House on Tuesday, March 14, that would provide Forsyth County residents with a floating homestead exemption from school district property taxes.

Sponsored by Rep. Carter Barrett, District 24, and several other local representatives, HB 717 would help to relieve taxpayers from spikes in property values by anchoring tax bills to an adjusted base year.

As stated in the bill, once taxpayers apply for the exemption their tax bills collected by Forsyth County Schools would not be able to raise by more than 4% annually.

An exemption like this would prevent citizens’ tax bills from skyrocketing in the same way they did last year as values across Georgia and the U.S. rose to historic numbers due to inflation.

Following the hike in property taxes last year, many in the community asked the board and local legislators to put a floating homestead exemption in place to help freeze property values and save them from such an economic phenomenon.

The county has had a floating homestead exemption in place for its portion of the tax digest since 2001, but it does not exempt taxpayers from the schools’ portion, which makes up about two-thirds of the bill. This bill would help to cover that two-thirds.

HB 717 does, however, differ from a resolution passed by the Forsyth County Board of Education in February asking local legislators to put a 5% cap in place and a 5-year sunset clause if they decided to introduce a floating homestead exemption.

District CFO Larry Hammel said at the time that, outside of last year’s “anomaly,” property reassessments typically increase in the county by about 5-9% each year.

In FY 2018, they increased by 4.7% followed by 5.83% in 2019, 4.08% in 2020, 1.6% in 2021 and 2.01% in 2022. Tom Cleveland, District 3 board member, said these increases in the tax digest usually remain consistent.

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This is why Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden and Hammel said they would “feel comfortable” seeing a 5% cap on a potential tax exemption as it would save taxpayers from huge spikes in property bills while not having much of a financial impact on the district.

The proposed 4% cap in this bill could have an impact on the school system’s regular budget if property values continue to grow by that usual 5-9% annually.

But Bearden wrote in a statement to the FCN that he and his team "do not believe the proposed Floating Homestead Exemption will be detrimental to our school system."

The 5-year sunset in the district’s resolution would have also allowed school leaders and legislators to reevaluate the exemption in the future.

“My concern with something like this is not really necessarily with this governance team, it’s for future boards and future superintendents,” Bearden said in February. “I hope we’re really careful and our community is really careful not to strap the school system so that, someday down the road, we look back and say, ‘Boy, I wish we hadn’t done that,’ or ‘I wish we would have done it at a different level.’”

The introduced bill still includes a sunset, but it is set for 10 years after when the legislation would pass.

"We appreciate the ongoing dialogue between our Legislative Delegation and Forsyth County Schools," Bearden wrote in the statement. "We all remain committed to providing our students with a quality educational experience that is fiscally responsible to our citizens .... Additionally, we applaud the sunset provision in the proposed legislation that will allow the impact of this exemption to be analyzed in the future."

For this exemption to become a reality, though, HB 717 must be passed in both the state House and Senate and voters in Forsyth County would have to vote in favor of it in November 2024.

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