Sales tax increase proposed for DeKalb

A bill pending in the Georgia Legislature proposes increasing DeKalb County’s sales tax rate to 8 percent to fund infrastructure improvements. The legislation also would use existing sales taxes to reduce homeowners’ property tax bills.

If House Bill 215 is passed by state lawmakers, DeKalb voters would still have to approve it before it could take effect.

The additional 1 cent per dollar sales tax, called a special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST), would raise about $100 million a year for capital improvements. Each of metro Atlanta’s nine other core counties already have a local option sales tax.

“That means a significant increase in available infrastructure funding for DeKalb County,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mike Jacobs, R-Brookhaven, during last week’s DeKalb delegation meeting.

Under DeKalb’s current sales taxes, 1 cent per dollar is collected for what’s called a homestead option sales tax (HOST). Four-fifths of money raised from the HOST helps reduce DeKalb residents’ property tax bills, and the remainder is distributed to cities or used for county infrastructure.

But the creation of the cities of Brookhaven and Dunwoody ate into county infrastructure funding under the HOST formula. Those cities received more than $6 million each in 2014, leaving about $1.5 million for the unincorporated majority of DeKalb.

The legislation would eliminate distributions to cities and instead allocate HOST proceeds entirely to property tax relief for homeowners. The discount would be applied equally to city and unincorporated residents by giving them a discount on the portion of their tax bills that pays for countywide services.

Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, said the HOST needs to be changed because it allocates funds disproportionately to cities. She said the additional tax is a separate issue.

“I think the HOST formula has to be corrected. I don’t think we have much of a choice about that because there’s a very unfair distribution of HOST,” Oliver said at the delegation meeting.

DeKalb and Rockdale counties are the only two counties in Georgia that levy a HOST.

These tax overhaul efforts were suggested by DeKalb County’s Operations Task Force, which completed its work in December. Jacobs was a member of the task force, along with other state legislators, county commissioners and community leaders.

HB215 has been referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.

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