Alpharetta debates homeowner tax credit

City Council members discussed setting aside $300,000 to be used as a tax credit to homestead property owners during a workshop session. The idea was brought forward by Councilman Ben Burnett. Image Courtesy Alpharetta
City Council members discussed setting aside $300,000 to be used as a tax credit to homestead property owners during a workshop session. The idea was brought forward by Councilman Ben Burnett. Image Courtesy Alpharetta

A proposed tax credit meant to bring relief to Alpharetta homeowners who’ve taken a financial hit during the pandemic sparked sharp debate Tuesday.

City Council members discussed setting aside $300,000 to be used as a tax credit for homestead property owners during a workshop session.

The credit — which could be offered annually or one-time only — would have to be authorized by the state Legislature and approved by voters.

Councilman Ben Burnett, who proposed the credit, said if approved it wouldn’t show up until January 2022 at the earliest, two months after the November election.

Burnett said many homeowners haven’t received the benefit of funds that have gone to clients of local charities. Alpharetta has given a portion of its Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act money to local organizations through the city’s Vulnerable Population Program Grant. Funds have helped residents with rent and mortgage payments, food and utilities.

“We’ve spent $250,000 paying for rent subsidies, power subsidies, all sorts of stuff that the vast amount of homeowners would be like, ‘Where’s mine?’” Burnett said. “And I think it’s a totally fair question.”

Most Council members pushed back saying taking money from already low city coffers isn’t a wise move.

Councilman Dan Merkel listed some of the city’s infrastructure needs that are overdue for repair due to the pandemic, such as $5 million in sidewalk repairs and $10 million in work to manage stormwater runoff.

“Where’s the funding coming from?” Merkel said.

Merkel said he doubted a property tax credit would have an impact, adding that in his experience most residents don’t notice slight increases or decreases in their property tax bill.

“We’re about to have a federal administration who has no limits on how much our taxes will go up,” councilmember Donald Mitchell said in support of the credit. “So if we can challenge politicians at the state level to figure out a way to save taxes for our citizens then I’m all for that.”

The city drafted a resolution asking the state Legislature to authorize Alpharetta to use funds from property taxes already collected to provide the credit. Officials have learned it will have to be tweaked in some way, however.

Councilwoman Karen Richard said she discovered that state law doesn’t currently allow for the tax credit in the way it’s presented in the resolution.

The mayor and City Council may discuss the measure during their scheduled retreat on Wednesday.

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