A 2007 increase in the homestead exemption for disabled veterans that was overlooked by local and state officials means thousands of veterans statewide are due a refund, including about 300 in Richmond County.
Richmond County Tax Commissioner Steven Kendrick said his office was made aware of the issue from a taxpayer complaint earlier this year, and county tax officials statewide were informed of the situation at a May meeting.
Kendrick said his office is sending letters to the veterans or their surviving spouses to ensure addresses are accurate before mailing refund checks in the next few weeks. The refund checks will average $1,000, Kendrick said.
On Tuesday, Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross said about 345 disabled veteran homeowners in Columbia County would be issued checks averaging $1,100 for property taxes they overpaid since 2007, when the federal government raised the homestead exemption for disabled veterans from $50,000 to $63,780.
The homestead exemption reduces the amount a home is subject to property taxes when the homeowner lives there. It is extended to surviving spouses of veterans who haven’t remarried or their minor children who continue to reside in the home.
The increase likely escaped notice of state and local officials for five years because it was “tucked pretty deep” in a federal law, Kendrick said.
“With so many exemptions, which sometimes are state exemptions and sometimes are local, somehow the increase for this one just slipped through,” he said.
Georgia Department of Revenue spokesman Jud Seymour said Wednesday that “notifying the counties of this is not a function of the department.” He could provide no additional information.
All the counties represented at the May meeting were informed of the 2007 change, according to Kendrick.
The totals overbilled to disabled Richmond County veterans amount to about $96,000 in 2009, $110,000 in 2010 and $120,000 in 2011, he said.
More than half the funds were school taxes for the Richmond County Board of Education, and his office is still calculating how much is owed for other years, Kendrick said.
The school board and Augusta Commission won’t have to reimburse the tax office but will see future payments reduced by the amount to be refunded to the veterans, he said.
“It is unfortunate that the information wasn’t passed down correctly,” Kendrick said. “We just hope that it finds those veterans at a time in which it could be helpful to them.”