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Toombs Commission Explores Sales Tax Options
Monday, 21 December 2009

December 21--  As promised during their recent budget hearings, Toombs County commissioners are exploring options to lessen the tax load on property owners in the county.

Monday they held a workshop meeting with a representative of the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia.  Clint Mueller is the association's legislative director and advises county governments on tax policy.

He explained a little-used sales tax called the Homestead Option Sales Tax (HOST).  It's similar, but different, from the Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) which now divides a penny of every retail dollar spent in the county among county government and the towns of Vidalia, Lyons and Santa Claus.

For homeowners, the Homestead Option Sales Tax could amount to zero property taxes for those who own a home and no more than five acres of land.

"Toombs County already has a Local Option Sales Tax.  For them to implement a HOST, they would first have to get rid of the LOST," Mueller explains.

He continues, "There are pros and cons to both systems.  Both are a one percent sales tax, so the citizens will be paying a one percent sales tax either way, but the tax benefits are different.  LOST provides property tax relief with a rollback on all types of property in the county, but the HOST concentrates only on homesteaded property so it provides more tax relief for the homeowner but less for all non-homesteaded property owners."

Mueller says the HOST does not tax your groceries or prescription drugs, but explains the county could make up the difference in reduced sales tax revenue because it would not be required to share any of the sales tax with Vidalia, Lyons or Santa Claus.

To be adopted, the measure would have to voted on in a local referendum and Mueller says it would likely be opposed by the city governments.  He also says it would take a while to implement a HOST and that's a non-starter for taxpayers.

"It would take several years before the property owners would see the benefits of it, and that's one of the reasons it's difficult  because most voters want to see the results of their decisions immediately," Mueller believes. 

After the meeting, Toombs Commission Chairman Buddy West said the commission is looking at all options.  "We're looking at and exploring all of the options.  We're not leaving any rock unturned whether its LOST, HOST or whatever it might be.  We're just looking at what might benefit the taxpayers of Toombs County during these economic times," he said.

So far, only two counties in Georgia, Rockdale and DeKalb, have implemented HOST, according to Mueller.

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