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Whats on the ballot?
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Here’s the “skinny” on the constitutional amendments on the general election ballot.

There are three amendments to the Georgia Constitution on the ballot Georgians will be voting on in the next three weeks. At least one of the amendments is controversial, but all three can be difficult for the casual reader to learn about.

A good place to start is the Web site of the Association of County Commissioners, which has good information, including a video on each amendment.

First of all, these amendments if passed, would authorize state law to be passed to put these provisions into effect. So the passage of the Constitutional Amendments is not the final word on the content of the provisions. Secondly, it is also useful to remember that of all of the possible constitutional amendments introduced, only these three garnered the two-thirds majority in the Legislature to be placed on the ballot, so they all had to have bipartisan support for you to have the opportunity to consider them.

Amendment 1 — Would put into place a structure that would allow forestland owners to keep properties of over 200 acres from being subject to rising property values and valuation. The owner would agree not to develop the property but to leave in natural state for at least 15 years. Local governments would be compensated for the loss in tax revenue through a state program.

This is seen as a way to promote “greenspace” without the state actually purchasing properties and taking them completely off the tax rolls. If the owner reneges on the agreement, there are severe penalties to include obligation for the property taxes that would have been levied if the property had not been in the program. The amendment also authorizes the payment of grants to local governments in lieu of the ad valorem taxes.

So far, conservationists and others such as the Georgia Forestry Association are supporting the amendment because it would protect lands in fast-growing areas from development and perpetuate the state’s tree-growing industry. County governments are generally supportive, but the state school board group is opposed because of the potential the state might not back up its commitment to replace the funds and school districts would be losers.

Amendment 2 — Legalizes and restores a process that was ongoing before the state Supreme Court disallowed it. Redevelopment projects or tax allocation districts (TADs) had become very popular in the metro Atlanta part of the state as a vehicle for development of  blighted or non-tax producing properties.  Again as in Amendment 1, TADs involve freezing property tax values while redevelopment is going on.  Tax revenue increases are reinvested in the properties. When finished, new taxes are collected when properties are sold or utilized based on the increased, developed value. School taxes, which can make up to two-thirds of local property taxes, are an important part of any approach such as this, but their participation had been ruled unconstitutional by the Court. Under this amendment, school districts retain rights to decline participation. Without this amendment, most projects will not generate the savings to make investment in some areas feasible. Again, local governments are generally favorable to this amendment.

Amendment 3 — Would  authorize “private communities” to obligate future landowners for repayment of development costs. These self-contained communities have been developed in Florida and basically involve the complete costs of developing a community to be borne by the taxes and income from the residents and property owners of the development. This normally includes all infrastructure costs including roads, schools, etc.

Local governments have the say-so under this amendment to approve or disapprove these developments. Some are opposed because future property owners would owe payments to both the development and property taxes to local governments. Proponents say that potential buyers would have to be satisfied at the value of the property to make the investment and that these “planned communities” will offer the amenities wanted by future owners at no cost to local property taxpayers. Local governments have been generally supportive of the present form of this amendment.

Voting early
In case you had not noticed, voting early this year is more accessible and voter-friendly than ever before.  Early voting started Sept. 22, 45 days from Election Day. Today and until Oct. 31, voters can go to the local elections office or designated location and vote on the spot, no excuses needed. Just show a valid ID and vote early. For absentee ballots, you can pick up an application and mail it back to the elections office. Upon verification of signatures, a ballot will be mailed to the voter who can then mail it in or even fax the ballot in.

Georgia is expecting over 1 million voters to vote before Election Day with another 3 million possibly voting on Election Day.

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