Snellville State Representative Brett Harrell has introduced legislation which would prohibit non-tax fees from appearing on property tax bills.
In Gwinnett County, property tax bills include fees for stormwater, street lights and street humps. Last year, a solid waste service fee to cover the costs of county mandated trash collection was also added.
"I'm concerned my property could be liened for a fee," Rep. Harrell said. "I don't think it's appropriate that my home could have a lien on it because I didn't pay a street light fee or a stormwater fee."
If H.B. 291 passes, no property tax bill in Georgia could include these fees. The law would require collections and payments of these fees to be mailed separately from the property tax bills.
Harrell said the addition of these fees to property tax bills has adversely affected homeowners by increasing their mortgage payments and escrow fees.
"All the while these politicians say they didn't increase your taxes, but by placing these fees on your tax bills, it's caused your monthly mortgage payment to go up," he said.
According to a House Communications Office press release, non-tax fees can comprise as much as 15-20 percent of a total property tax bill.
Another issue with the inclusion of these fees on property tax bills, Harrell said, is the increased likelihood a homeowner could accidentally file a fraudulent tax return. Property owners may legally deduct property taxes, but homeowners may incorrectly report this tax if they look at the total amount due on the property tax bill.
"Some people may look at that tax bill and claim the total including these fees which are not tax deductible according to the IRS," Harrell said. "Purely by an innocent mistake, some people I think may be filing erroneous tax returns which could potentially subject them to problems in the future."
Harrell said H.B. 291 would solve this problem by allowing property tax owners to distinguish between taxes and fees.
"And while we don't know the full number of people who may be filing these erroneous returns, we do know that if these fees were not on the bill the number would be zero," he added.
Harrell said he has spoken with county and city leaders regarding this issue and is aware of potential objections to the legislation including the increased cost of billing.
"They are already sending a tax bill," Harrell said. "It costs very little to add another fee to the bill."
Harrell said some jurisdictions have existing options, such as water or other utility bills, which would allow them to change the property tax billing process without incurring additional costs.
"Some places there may be no other billing option," Harrell conceded. Still, Harrell said the revenue should cover the billing costs.
"That cost typically is small in relation to the size of the revenue or the size of the program," he said. "If it costs a huge amount to bill in relation to what the program generates, that's probably an indication that you don't have a very good program and you ought to rethink the program."
Harrell said another concern local governments may have is that separate billing could result in higher delinquency rates.
"The reason the delinquencies are so low now is that people are afraid they're going to lose their home," he said. "That's not right."
Harrell, whose District 106 includes portions of Gwinnett County, said he has 56 signers on the bill.
"It at least has enough support that I think it will get a fair hearing," he said. "We'll see how it progresses from this point forward."