Originally created 03/31/97

Law helps homeowners



ATLANTA - A new law quietly approved in the Legislature could clear the way for DeKalb County's revolutionary sales tax, designed to ease the burden on homeowners, to spread elsewhere in Georgia.

"When other counties see the benefit to the homeowners, I think you will see this move across the state," the sponsor, Rep. Steve Stancil, R-Canton, said Friday as the Legislature prepared to adjourn.

DeKalb County's new homeowners option sales tax, or HOST, imposes a 1 percent local sales tax and uses that money to offset property taxes through an increased homestead exemption.

The tax easily won approval from DeKalb County voters earlier this month.

Under current law, however, the only counties eligible to utilize a HOST tax are those that do not use either of the other two local sales taxes available to local governments - the 1 percent tax for general government needs and the 1 percent tax for special projects.

That excludes every county except DeKalb, and Webster, in southwest Georgia.

Stancil's bill, which was signed by the governor last week, makes four additional counties - Cherokee, Cobb, Gwinnett and Rockdale - immediately eligible for the HOST tax.

Those counties currently utilize a special purpose sales tax, which is of limited duration and earmarked for specific purposes, but have not imposed a general purpose sales tax, which is permanent unless voters repeal it. Under Stancil's bill, counties with that specific combination of taxes could also utilize the HOST tax with voter approval.

The 153 other counties that use a general purpose sales tax still wouldn't be allowed to try the HOST tax under Stancil's bill unless they decided to repeal the general purpose tax and replace it with HOST.

But that's exactly what the Cherokee County lawmaker believes will happen.

"We've already run some numbers in Cherokee County. Let's say your tax bill there is $1,000, and $700 of that goes to the board of education and $300 to the county. That $300 will be wiped out under the HOST tax," he said.

The organizations that lobby the Legislature for local governments, Association County Commissioner of Georgia and Georgia Municipal Association, took neutral positions on Stancil's bill.