Pete Schiffbauer is waiting on his check. Along with about 345 other disabled Columbia County veterans owed a property tax refund, he will have to wait at least a couple more weeks, Tax Commissioner Kay Allen said.
“We have run into all kinds of problems,” Allen said. “The process itself is very cumbersome.”
Disabled veterans who own property in the county are owed refunds because of an increase in the level of their homestead exemptions. The federal government made the change in 2007, but county officials in Georgia say either the federal government failed to notify the states or the state failed to notify county officials.
That has forced counties to recompute the tax exemptions for those years and refund the overpayment from veterans. The county commission announced the refunds in July, with the hope that the checks would go out around Thanksgiving.
At the time, officials said they expected the checks to average $1,100.
“Some of us were counting on this money for Christmas,” said Schiffbauer, a Columbia County resident since 1992 and classified as disabled since 2005. “If I owed taxes on my house for the last six years, they’d have put up my house for sale on the courthouse steps.
“They owe us, and it doesn’t seem to be a big deal.”
The process of computing the refunds, however, has been a big deal, Allen said.
“Our goal was to get them into the mail by Veterans Day,” Allen said. “But when we checked into it, it was so complicated that we just felt like we needed to be sure we were getting the right money to the right party in the right amount.”
The process further slowed because it ran into the busiest season for the office – when property tax collections are due – and because staff members, including Allen, who is recovering from the flu, have been out sick.
Richmond County Tax Commissioner Steven Kendrick said in July that his office was made aware of the issue from a taxpayer complaint this year, and county tax officials statewide were informed of the situation at a May meeting. He said about 300 veterans were affected by it.
Allen said she hopes most of the veterans will receive checks before Christmas. About 240 of them are “cut and dried,” in which staffers believe they’ve completed the research to determine the correct amount for each of the years owed.
For those, Allen said, they plan to cut checks Dec. 17.
“Please be patient with us,” she said. “We’re trying to get it to you – and we’re trying to get it right.”