State officials to blame for tax increase

To the editor:

So many of us have been surprised when we have opened our property-tax bills this summer. Why have they gone up?

Our local officials are correct in placing the blame for higher property-tax bills on the Governor and the Georgia General Assembly, because of their action during the 2009 session to eliminate the Homeowner Tax Relief Grant (HTRG) program.

This is the largest property-tax increase in Georgia history, causing a $200-$300 property-tax increase for the average Georgia homeowner. Burdening Georgians in this way, during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, is a testament to how out of touch the leadership at the Gold Dome has become.

Originally, the Governor proposed eliminating HTRG funding retroactive to last year. But majority leadership in the legislature, instead, passed House Bill 143, which kept the grants in place only for fiscal year 2009.

The funding would have remained for future years, only if state revenues grew by necessary percentages, and the bill's authors knew beyond any doubt that would not happen this year.

I voted against the bill. Ending the HTRG is, unfortunately, a continuation of this administration's long-standing policy of shifting the tax burden to the local property owner through continued cuts in funding to local school systems and unfunded mandates on local governments.

This tax increase comes at a time when many Georgia families have had to deal with job losses and are struggling to pay their mortgage and other household bills.

I favored legislation that could have prevented elimination of the HTRG program. Another bill -- HB 356 -- would have given local governments the power to recoup sales tax revenues that have gone uncollected. A similar program in Alabama was successful in collecting more than $1 billion, which would be more than enough to fund the $420 million needed for the homeowner tax relief grants. The majority leadership in the legislature, however, kept both proposals buried in committee.

STATE SEN. VALENCIA SEAY

State Senate District 34

Prepare, stay informed about the flu

To the editor:

Throughout September -- designated as National Preparedness Month -- the Georgia Department of Community Health (DCH) is encouraging Georgians to take action and be prepared to slow the spread of the seasonal flu and novel influenza A (H1N1) viruses in their communities.

As cases of novel H1N1, or swine flu, continue to circulate in our communities this fall, it is important to prepare now for the affects that higher than normal absenteeism rates will have on our daily lives. While the severity and symptoms of novel H1N1 flu are similar to the seasonal flu, we anticipate seeing an increase in the number of novel H1N1 flu cases, because very few people have immunity to this virus. Combine those numbers with the Georgians who will be affected by the seasonal flu, and you have a very busy flu season.

Rolling up your sleeve and arming yourself against the flu viruses is as simple as following these three, key steps:

1. Prepare: Prepare for an increase in the number of individuals affected by the seasonal flu and novel H1N1 in schools and across businesses.

2. Plan: Plan what to do if you, your loved ones or co-workers get sick and have to stay home. Make contingency plans now for your home and work-place needs in the event that you or your family members become ill.

3. Stay informed: Stay connected with a trusted source for up-to-date information on seasonal flu and novel H1N1.

We cannot stop an influenza pandemic, but we may limit spread of the disease through early detection and a well-planned response. For more information visit: www.dch.georgia.gov/rollupyoursleeve, or follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/GADCH.

DR.PAT O'NEAL,

Director, Division of Emergency Preparedness and Response Georgia Department of Community Health