by Steve Wilson
Georgia will be the only state among its neighbors to allow local governments to give residential property owners a temporary break on their taxes for storm damage.
Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law last week House Bill 311, which was authored by State Rep. Lynn Smith, R-Newnan. It allows local governments to provide tax relief on property taxes, either through a millage rate reduction (one mill equals $1,000 worth of property value) or a credit once a disaster is declared by the federal government.
Under the new law which goes into effect on April 1, local governments in Georgia have the option of enacting different amounts of tax breaks for damaged and destroyed properties.
Searches of state law databases among the Peach State’s neighbors found a few similar laws, but none that allow local governments to provide property tax relief for those with damaged or destroyed residential properties.
Florida allowed refunds on tax paid on residential improvements of homes for those affected by hurricanes Ian and Nicole in 2022, but only on the habitable part of the home. Non-essential structures such as storage sheds and swimming pools aren’t eligible for refunds.
After multiple violent tornadoes struck Tuscaloosa, Cullman and other cities in Alabama in 2011, the Alabama Legislature passed a law that allowed local governments to give tax relief to industrial properties affected by natural disasters.
North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee have no similar laws on the books.
Newnan, Georgia was hit by a EF-4 tornado on March 26, 2021 that had peak winds of 170 mph and was on the ground for nearly 40 miles through Heard, Coweta and Fayette counties.
“This two year initiative is reflective of our community’s positive response as a way of dealing with the devastation caused by the ‘Midnight Tornado’ on March 26, 2021,” Smith said in a news release. “We call it the pay it forward option. I am so pleased that Governor Kemp has decided to sign this bill before the end of session.
“That way, this local government option is available now for our citizens as we brace ourselves for the unpredictable spring weather.”
Smith also championed House Resolution 594, which put on the ballot last November the choice for local governments to provide temporary property tax relief for natural disasters. Voters overwhelmingly approved the measure.
“This is an issue that developed from a tragedy that hit our hometown,” said state Sen. Matt Brass, R-Newnan, in a news release. “The solution will not immediately help those we represent but HB311 can and will help many others. Rep Smith is a selfless leader that sought input from others to find a solution to a very difficult problem – HB311 is the product of that. I’m thankful she included me in the process.”
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Steve Wilson has been an award-winning writer and editor for nearly 20 years at newspapers in Georgia, Florida and Mississippi and is a U.S. Coast Guard veteran and University of Alabama graduate.
Photo “Lynn Smith” by State Rep. Lynn Smith. Photo “Governor Brian Kemp” by Brian Kemp. Background Photo “Georgia State Capitol” by DXR. CC BY-SA 4.0.