County struggling with veterans tax exemptions, hoping for help from state

The Board of County Commissioners hopes the state will keep one big New Year’s Resolution they are suggesting to the legislature. Again at their last meeting of 2016, the county had to tackle a tax refund request from a disabled veteran.
This time it was Ora Williamson who was denied as the Commission feels their hands have been tied, and they are asking for help. As part of their legislative packet, the county is asking that tax refunds possibly be applied retroactively, in cases such as Williamson’s where it was no fault of her own. She had only in October received her letter from the Department of Veterans Affairs certifying her as 100 percent disabled as of May 3, 2010. Williamson requested tax refunds for three years, but there is no local provision for retroactive application of the Disabled Veterans’ Homestead Exemption.
“This meets with the same kind of issue we’ve been dealing with before. It’s a timing issue,” said County Attorney Dennis Davenport, noting that the suggestion in their legislative packet is to make the retroactivity consistent with the certified date of disability. “Part of the legislative packet is you’re looking for a legislator to find some solution here because typically exemptions are not applied retroactively.”
The Commission is doing what they can to get it fixed. Commissioner Steve Brown relayed speaking with one state senator and two representatives regarding the issue.
“They did not know this loophole or problem or whatever you want to call it exists,” said Brown. “They had a very keen interest in seeing that we resolve this. They did not know that this was happening at the local level to veterans.”
If the legislature does decide the exemptions should be allowed retroactively, counties could soon bear the brunt of it with a huge dent put in their coffers through no fault of their own.
“That’s the other side of the argument,” said Davenport. “If one side is to allow the exemption through retroactivity, the other side is the retroactive allocation is going to take away from the county tax pot.”
The Commission is aware they could be put in a bind by helping out veterans.
“They’ve got to be very deliberate and mindful about the impact on the lives of our veterans who served us well and the impact on our operational obligations to our community as a whole,” said Commissioner Charles Rousseau. “All parties could be aversely affected.”
Ultimately, the finger is being pointed back at the federal government for their slow response to veterans.
“If there’s a bad actor in all of this, it’s the federal government. What we’re doing is reacting to the federal government because seven years from the date she should’ve been classified, we’re just now getting that notation from the federal government,” lamented Brown. “We’re having to work backwards around the federal government’s late notification process, which is gut-wrenching.”
Williamson’s request would ultimately be denied at a 2-2 stalemate, Oddo and Rousseau voting to deny and Randy Ognio not present.
“My frustration is not being able to sit here in this seat tonight and vote favorably to have the refund because of some very serious implications of opening a door that we have no idea what is behind it,” said Rousseau. “My hope is that the legislature will act and will do something responsible.”
If the county gets their way, the state will soon help them give veterans their due.

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Christopher Dunn has been the sports editor for Fayette Newspapers since 2011, in addition to running Fayette Game Day magazine. He is a graduate of Fayette County schools, as well as a graduate of Georgia State University with a degree in journalism. Follow him on twitter @fayettesports.


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