Tax relief appears certain for Gwinnett property owners

The action means property owners will pay Gwinnett County about $31 million less this year than they did in 2009.

Gwinnett school board members said last month that they also intend to keep the tax rate the same as last year, meaning the district will receive about $44 million less in property tax revenue this year.

Taxpayers will see the biggest savings on their school taxes because the school district assesses its tax rate to current property values. The county offers a value-offset exemption to owner-occupied homes that freezes the property's value at its purchase price until it is sold. As a result, the taxable value of owner-occupied homes declined more this year for the school district than for the county.

Earlier this week, Gwinnett County appraiser Steve Pruitt said the value of residential and commercial property fell between 8 percent and 9 percent this year. That value, referred to as the tax digest, is used by local governments to determine how much money they raise in property taxes.

The decline in value means that on a $200,000 home reduced to a value of $180,000, the amount of tax reduction would be $106.00 for the county portion of the bill. The tax on the $200,000 value would have been $1,060 at the county's levy of 13.25 mills; the tax on the $180,000 home would be $954.00 at 13.25 mills. This assumes no homestead exemptions are at play.

The school district has already incorporated $251 million in cuts to balance its $1.7 billion budget.

So far, county officials have not disclosed how they plan to absorb the loss in their revenue, but they are expected to reconcile this year's $1.33 billion budget by July 20.

"By that time we will have explored are we doing cuts, are we spending fund balance, are we cutting services," said Aaron Bovos, the county's finance director. "We haven't quite got that far yet."

Bovos said one element of the process will include tracking the spending trajectory of individual departments to see whether they may not need all the money they were allotted when the budget was passed in January.

"We really won't know what we have to cut until the reconciliation budget," Bovos said.

The county also has on hand about $50 million it received from a late 2009 tax increase. Residents received special billing for that assessment, which amounted to about $160 for the owner of a $200,000 home.

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