Friday, October 29, 2010

Differing opinions on the Dunwoody Homestead Exemption referendum.

The other day Councilman Robert Wittenstein sent an e-mail bast as well as a letter to the editor regarding his opinion of the Dunwoody Homestead Tax Exemption and today I was copied into a reply from Mr. Rob Augustine that went back and forth.  Since some of you may not know Mr. Augustine, he is a past President of the Dunwoody Homeowners Association whom I respect and have known him for a number of years, he is an attorney who worked diligently on the Dunwoody Yes committee and has played an important part in forming this community.  At some point in the back and forth discussion someone said let Heneghan post both items to give both sides an equal airing and see what the comments say.

Robert Wittenstein - Vote No to the Homestead Exemption
Dear Dunwoody Friends and Neighbors,
There is one Dunwoody city item on the November 2 ballot and I’d like to encourage you to vote NO on it. The item is as follows:
City of Dunwoody Homestead Exemption
"Shall the Act be approved which amends the homestead exemption from City of Dunwoody ad valorem taxes for municipal purposes in an amount equal to the amount by which the current year assessed value of a homestead exceeds the base year assessed value of such homestead by eliminating the automatic sunset so that the exemption continues indefinitely?" H.B. 1319 Act 562

This item is well-meaning, but in my opinion, misguided. If passed, it will set up the Dunwoody tax code so that new residents pay more taxes than long-time residents. 

If it passes, then over time as your property increases in value you’ll receive a credit on your property taxes equal to the tax on the increase in value.   When you sell your home to a new Dunwoody resident, the credit goes away so they will pay Dunwoody property tax on the full value of the home. The longer you live in your house, the bigger the subsidy.

I am not suggesting this to fatten the city’s treasury. The amount will be so small that it won’t have an impact on the city’s budget. 
For me this is a fairness issue. Two houses side-by-side, worth the same amount of money and receiving the same city services, should pay the same in property taxes. We shouldn’t have the house on the right subsidize the house on the left simply because one of them is a long time resident and one is a newcomer.

If you do vote NO and the item is defeated, then your city property taxes will increase slightly over time as your property gets more valuable. How much? For the average Dunwoody homeowner we are talking about $12 a year.

It is tempting to vote ourselves a benefit that current residents will enjoy at the expense of future residents who aren’t here yet and can’t vote. It is equally tempting to vote for freezing taxes—and if this were freezing taxes for everyone equally, that would certainly be something to consider. But this is not. 

No one wants to pay more taxes but the right thing to do is to recognize that as the value of our homes increase, so will our share of the city property tax burden. For this reason, I encourage you to vote NO on this ballot measure on November 2nd.

In other city news, we have passed our 2011 budget—without the extra four-person traffic unit. The budget allocates considerably more money for repaving and sidewalks projects and forecasts a $1.3 million surplus. 

We continue to look at alternatives for 911 dispatch service. I expect us to make a decision in November between remaining with DeKalb, starting our own 911 center, or contracting with the Sandy Springs/John’s Creek “ChatComm” 911 center.

Finally, this week we also passed our revised Dunwoody sign ordinance. This ordinance has been in the works for 14 months and it attempts to balance the needs of businesses while improving the esthetics of the city. The most notable provision is a city-wide ban on new internally lit signs. Existing signs will be allowed to stay as long as they are maintained in good condition but future signs must be externally lit.


 Rob Augustine - Vote Yes to the Homestead Exemption

Thanks Robert. Very glad to see the externally lit sign requirement in the ordinance. We had this requirement for decades under the DHA, but no power to require it other than persuasion. Overall, this new sign ordinance will improve the look of the City a great deal. I hope to see non-conforming signs brought under this regulation soon.

Good work on repaving and sidewalks as well. I do hope to see a change in 911 service. We know we can do better with the alternatives than by staying with DeKalb.

Finally, I have to disagree with you on the ad valorem taxes. This ordinance is coupled with one for DeKalb County as a whole [see below]. An ordinance which is already in effect. This merely extends what we have now. And we have what we have now because of the inconsistencies, vagaries, and outright unfairness of the tax assessment process. What this ordinance does is lock in the actual home value -- based upon the actual sale/purchase price -- for the base year. This ordinance prevents county tax assessors from jacking up home values way beyond their value. And NEVER, EVER adjusting values downward, even in a market like we have today. Clearly, if you want to talk about unfair, the current tax assessment process is unfair. I'm actually thankful to Fran Millar, Mike Jacobs, and the others who supported this Homestead Exemption legislation to try to right a wrong that has existed ever since we've had property taxes on residences. In the overall scheme of things, it is fairer to have property values based upon actual sale prices, and not on the assessor's whims and the need for DeKalb County to raise revenues, backdoor, through the assessment process.

And, I would also ask you to think of those citizens who have lived in their homes a long time. Why should they bear the brunt of tax increases at the hands of the assessors. Remember a large number of these folks are senior citizens. When they do sell their house the taxes get adjusted, but not every year or so as we have seen in DeKalb these past decades. And for all of us who are trying to budget and plan our expenses, why should we have exorbitant property tax increases at the hands of county officials who are the ones "valuing" our homes. Clearly, having this freeze is a good idea and prevents a boatload of mischief, financial shenanigans, and arbitrariness for our citizens. Why we could eliminate arbitrary tax assessments all together and have something rational for a change -- actual home value at time of sale. This would save money by cutting bureaucracy.

So, I strongly recommend voting YES on this referendum item. By the way, if you don't vote to approve this, your taxes are going up a lot more than $12 a year! VOTE YES ON THE EXTENSION OF THE PROPERTY TAX FREEZE FOR DUNWOODY AND FOR DEKALB AS WELL. [See additional info from Mike Jacobs on this issue below. And note especially how the tax savings of the past 5 years will come due all at once!!!!]

And if you don't think that's unfair, how about this: it is unfair to expect citizens to pay for an ever growing county bureaucracy that is the largest in the state per capita and perhaps the nation with some 7,000 employees. Not to mention the waste, inefficiency, and lack of competence as well as blatant immoral behavior of our county officials. Frankly, I'm tired as hell of subsidizing such behavior and the lawsuits that accompany it.

Sincerely, Rob

From Mike Jacobs newsletter:

DeKalb County Homestead Exemption: “Shall the Act be approved which amends the homestead exemption from DeKalb County ad valorem taxes for county purposes in an amount equal to the amount by which the current year assessed value of a homestead exceeds the base year assessed value of such homestead by extending the exemption for another five-year period?” SB 544

This is the five-year extension of the Property Tax Assessment Freeze that saves you money on your DeKalb County property taxes. The current freeze is set to expire at the end of the 2011 tax year. This renewal will last through 2016.

I helped to pass this renewal and strongly recommend a “YES” vote. Otherwise, a property tax increase reflecting any assessment hikes that would have occurred during the preceding five years will be included in your 2012 county tax bill.

Whenever I mention an assessment “freeze,” I receive questions as to whether the assessed value of your home is “frozen” if it declines. The answer is no. The “freeze” only serves as a ceiling on the assessed value of your home, not a floor.


dunwoodydad said...

Hurray, let's pay more taxes and give away property rights to council that votes themselves a raise in a times of economic hardship.

Catherine said...

Who wrote that amendment....that kind of confusing language seems deliberate and should be illegal. I still don't understand the amendment and my own vote, much less the real financial impact. The retroactive 5 year mumbo jumbo is even more confusing. Nobody at the polls understood it either.

Heck, you elected officials don't seem to either. Why should I give government anymore power
Or money?