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Tax break for homeowners, sales tax for capital improvements on Nov. 7 ballot

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Tax break for homeowners, sales tax for capital improvements on Nov. 7 ballot

FILE PHOTO FROM 2022 USED FOR ILLUSTRATION PURPOSES: DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond gave the State of the County address on Wednesday, April 27, at Peachtree-DeKalb Airport. Photo by Zoe Seiler.

By Dan Whisenhunt and Zoe Seiler 

DeKalb County, GA — This November, voters in cities and in unincorporated DeKalb County will consider two related ballot measures.

One is an extension of the Equalized Homestead Option Sales Tax (EHOST), which is expected to save taxpayers $1 billion over the next six years. The other is the special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST), that’s expected to generate $850 million for capital improvements like parks, libraries and senior centers.

In DeKalb County, EHOST and SPLOST go hand-in-hand. Both referendums have to be approved by voters in order for EHOST and SPLOST to be extended.

The county’s press release on the two ballot measures hailed the EHOST as an important moment in county history.

“This is a transformational moment in DeKalb’s history,” DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond said in the press release. “We have the opportunity to benefit generations of DeKalb residents.”

Voters first approved the EHOST and SPLOST in 2017.

“It’s a continuation of the EHOST that we passed in 2017,” Thurmond explained. “It runs out in April 2024.”

Unless voters renew it in November, that is.

A chart produced by the county in 2017 showed what voters were saved each year through 2022, depending on their home’s value:

Image obtained via DeKalb County

A projection for what homeowners would save if EHOST is renewed — depending on the value of their home — was not available because the county’s millage rate changes each year, according to a county spokesperson.

If approved by voters, each city and the county will receive funds from the special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) for capital improvements. The Georgia General Assembly passed a bill this year that allows DeKalb County to use funds from its special purpose local option sales tax toward parks and libraries, in addition to transportation.

Under the current SPLOST, 85% of the funds have to go toward transportation and public safety and 15% goes toward capital outlay projects. House Bill 431 removed that requirement but did not increase the tax rate.

In DeKalb County, the county and the cities work together to sign an intergovernmental agreement for a six-year SPLOST. If all parties cannot agree on the IGA, the default is a five-year SPLOST.

The SPLOST distribution is determined based on a city’s population, which leaves the smallest cities in DeKalb County receiving less than 1% of the total funding available. This year, the county and cities have agreed to give the four smallest cities in the county – Avondale Estates, Stone Mountain, Pine Lake, and Lithonia – an additional $2 million.

The county uses a formula to figure out how much SPLOST funding each city will receive, and it’s based on population. Avondale Estates City Manager Patrick Bryant previously said there are some flaws in the formula.

“Basically, a city’s rewarded for their density,” Bryant said. “Since all of these monies can only be spent on capital projects, density isn’t necessarily a good measure of capital need. You have to also factor in land area.”

Bryant and Avondale Estates Mayor Jonathan Elmore presented an initial alternative to the DeKalb Municipal Association. The four smallest DeKalb County cities – Avondale Estates, Pine Lake, Stone Mountain and Lithonia – have less than 1% of the population distribution of the county. Their SPLOST distribution would be increased to 1% of the total take of the SPLOST funding.

The increased funding to the smallest cities would come at the expense of the county’s SPLOST collection and would not take funding away from other cities, Bryant added.

Thurmond said county officials liked that suggestion.

“It was a brilliant idea really, to tell you the truth,” Thurmond said. 

DeKalb County Commissioner Ted Terry praised the commission’s decision to put these items on the ballot calling it “great news all around.”

“Continuing the EHOST needs is really important, but I want us to keep an eye focused on creating a more equitable housing tax system in DeKalb that supports an affordable housing trust fund to improve housing access for our lower to middle income residents,” Terry said.

Thurmond said EHOST is an investment in housing affordability.

“The EHOST is one of the largest investments in housing affordability in the history of Georgia,” Thurmond said.

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