Forest Park homestead exemption passes

By Ed Brock

Forest Park residents have approved a $150,000 homestead exemption that will essentially eliminate residential property tax in the city.

The exemption will begin with $50,000 of the assessed value of the house in 2004 and will increase to $100,000 in 2005 and then $150,000 in 2006 and beyond.

Based on unofficial numbers, Forest Park residents passed the amendment that will initiate the exemption with 2,285 votes to 979 votes against.

"I hope it will help me. I think it will," said 25-year resident Janet Upton.

City Councilman Wes Lord was the sponsor of the exemption.

"I'm very pleased," Lord said. "I think it's a move forward for the city. It will put into the homeowners' pockets money for Christmas for their kids or grandkids."

When they were a young, married couple, Lord and his wife were not too concerned about the Cobb County community in which they lived at the time.

"We had less interest in the community because we didn't look at it as a permanent home," Lord said.

And judging by the number of rental properties in the city, it occurred to Lord that something should be done to encourage more people to live in the city. The homestead exemption is just one aspect of that goal.

"We have a lot further to go," Lord said. "This is something we should have done 15 years ago."

Other "housekeeping amendments" will involve encouraging proper maintenance of property, sidewalks and beautification projects, Lord said.

Forest Park doesn't have a lot of subdivisions full of expensive houses, Lord said, and the blue collar, working class families that live there make it a place that's "super to live in."

Prior to Tuesday's vote Lord said he "couldn't imagine" the people voting against the amendment. But Ophelia Lee did just that.

"I don't think it's going to help me out because my house doesn't value that much," Lee said. "We're in the (Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International) Airport path so that lowers the value of our houses."

Lee said her house is only worth $58,000.

But Lord said Lee was one of several people who misunderstood the amendment.

"It would have totally eliminated her property taxes for this year," Lord said.

Other cities have used homestead exemptions to eliminate property taxes. Lord said Morrow has one and Lake City City Manager Jerry Garr said his city's $50,000 homestead exemption eliminates the taxes on a "vast majority" of the homes in the city.