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Jonesboro’s homestead exemption bill in peril

Forum to be held Monday to gauge residents opinion

Members of the state House of Representatives move about between votes in the chamber Tuesday. A bill to authorize a referendum on lowering Jonesboro’s homestead exemption has stalled in the House because of lackluster support from local legislators and questions about the need for a referendum.

Members of the state House of Representatives move about between votes in the chamber Tuesday. A bill to authorize a referendum on lowering Jonesboro’s homestead exemption has stalled in the House because of lackluster support from local legislators and questions about the need for a referendum.

— State officials may silence the voices of Jonesboro residents if they don’t speak up.

House Bill 330 is a piece of local legislation that would let residents who live within the city limits vote on whether their homestead exemption should be lowered from $60,000 to $10,000. If approved, the referendum would be part of Jonesboro’s municipal election in November.

However, the legislation to authorize the referendum has effectively stalled in the state House of Representatives’ Intragovernmental Coordination committee. At issue is a possible lack of support within the Clayton County Legislative Delegation and reservations held by the House committee.

Rep. Mike Glanton (D-Jonesboro) said officials want to take a closer look at the issues involved with lowering the homestead exemption.

“It was in committee and we tabled it,” Glanton said. “It’s tabled in committee because we want to really come back and look at this thing, and to ask the City of Jonesboro to provide us with actual data that, number one, would justify doing it, but number two, to help us really see what the impact is going to be on the residents.”

To that end, Glanton and Rep. Demetrius Douglas (D-Stockbridge) will hold a town hall meeting immediately following the Jonesboro City Council Work Session Monday night to find out if residents want to decide their own fate on the homestead exemption issue.

Most of the city of Jonesboro lies in Glanton’s district and the rest is in Douglas’ district.

The council’s work session will begin at 6 p.m., and the town hall meeting will begin at 7 p.m. at the Jonesboro Police Department headquarters, located at 170 South Main St.

“It’s going to be a joint town hall meeting with myself and Rep. Demetrius Douglas to hear from the residents in regards to what their thoughts are on this proposal,” Glanton said.

While pieces of local legislation requested by municipalities tend to be formalities because they are bills the cities or counties have requested, the Clayton County Legislative Delegation has appeared somewhat reluctant to endorse this bill.

Glanton and fellow Reps. Valencia Stovall (D-Ellenwood) and Keisha Waites (D-Atlanta) have signed on as sponsors of the legislation, according to the Georgia General Assembly’s website. Stovall and Waites are members of the Clayton County Legislative Delegation.

But, General Assembly rules require sponsorship from a majority of the delegation’s members in each chamber. Because it is a house bill and Clayton County’s delegation has seven representatives in its delegation, at least four of them must sign on as sponsors of the bill.

In other words, Jonesboro residents won’t have a shot at deciding the homestead exemption’s fate if one more state representative from the delegation doesn’t agree to co-sponsor the bill.

Douglas and Reps. Darryl Jordan (D-Riverdale), Ronnie Mabra (D-Fayetteville) and Sandra Scott (D-Rex) have not signed on as co-sponsors of the bill. Douglas is the most notable member of that group since he is one of the city’s two representatives.

Jonesboro Mayor Pro Tem Pat Sebo said the city isn’t asking the General Assembly to do much, though.

“All we are asking the General Assembly to do is to allow us, the citizens, to have the opportunity to vote on what we want,” she said.

The city has sought legislative authorization for a homestead exemption referendum for more than two years. Officials began seeking the legislation when the city council voted to re-institute a city property tax in December 2010. Because the city’s homestead exemption is so high, and property values have fallen so much in recent years, the burden of paying the property tax falls on business owners.

House Bill 330 is the closest the city has gotten so far to getting the legislation it desires.

Sebo said the city has been willing to consider a request from some legislators at the state capital to change the language of the referendum so residents would instead vote the exemption by $10,000 annually over a five-year period.

She indicated there might have been other legislative hiccups but she was hesitant to discuss them before the town hall meeting. The council member said she does not want to risk upsetting the county’s legislative delegation since it holds the bill’s fate in its hands.

“We want to do what’s best for the citizens and residents of Jonesboro,” she said.