Rincon City Council members had some of their concerns on the Carter-Burns Bill referendum addressed, and posed some others that one of the legislation’s authors will have to research.
State Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Pooler) tried to allay Rincon council members’ worries of the impact the bill — to be voted upon during the Nov. 4 general election — would have.
“This is something I’ve been talking about since I’ve been elected,” he said, “something the Effingham County taxpayers have been addressing to me.”
Under the proposal, voters will have a chance to determine if their homestead exemption will go up proportionally with assessments. But since Rincon does not have a millage rate — and as such doesn’t need to have values attached to properties — council members, spurred by city attorney Raymond Dickey’s reading of the bill, wondered about its effect on them.
Rincon’s questions led Carter to consult with the Legislative Counsel Office about Rincon’s lack of a property tax.
“Legislative counsel was baffled,” Carter said. “Rincon is in a unique situation because you have no property tax and as a former mayor, I envy you for that.”
According to Carter, the city could still enact a millage rate.
“There will be those projects that will warrant going up on millage rates,” he said.
But the bill and the referendum are designed to eliminate “backdoor taxes” through higher assessments, he said.
Under the proposed referendum, voters will get to choose if they want the difference between their homestead exemptions and their assessment increases to be no more than either the consumer price index or 3 percent, whichever is lower.
Dickey was concerned how the baseline year would be determined if no millage rate and no assessment exist in the first place. Should Rincon return to a millage rate and need to establish assessments, those values would become the initial baseline, Carter said.
“The Legislative Services Counsel said we need to clean this up,” he said. “I assume you would use the county’s assessments, if you went to a millage rate.”
That item would need to be cleared up before the next General Assembly session.
“The people this is affecting the most are those on fixed incomes,” Carter said.
The cap also only applies to owner-occupied homes, he said.
Carter also wasn’t aware that the referendum would mean a separate election for Rincon on Nov. 4.
“I think this goes farther than one issue,” he said of the referendum’s effect on voting days.
He also wasn’t sure if the state was responsible for asking for pre-clearance from the U.S. Department of Justice.
The Carter-Burns Bill was influenced by the Stephens-Day Act that has been in use in Chatham County for several years. That legislation was influenced by a similar proposal in the Columbus area, according to Carter.
“It’s now in 57 jurisdictions,” Carter said of laws mirroring the effects of Stephens-Day.
The General Assembly was going to try to do something along those lines across the state, but it became bogged down in state House Speaker Glenn Richardson’s GREAT plan, Carter said.