(The Center Square) – The Georgia House has approved legislation that would allow local governments to provide disaster relief to residents if the federal government does not.
House Resolution 594 would authorize local governments to give temporary tax relief for properties severely damaged or destroyed by a natural disaster. The properties must be in a nationally declared disaster area to qualify for relief.
State representatives voted 150-0 in favor of it Friday.
“HR 594 would allow local governments to step in and provide an alternative pathway to direct relief for citizens in the future, especially if the federal government in Washington fails to do so,” state Rep. Lynn Smith, R-Newnan, said in a statement.
Smith championed the legislation after severe weather hit portions of Georgia last year, including in the area she represents.
Voters would have to decide whether to allow governments to provide tax relief. If they green-light the proposal, lawmakers would have to return and approve “enabling legislation” with specifics about how the relief would work, Clint Mueller, legislative director for the Association County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG), told The Center Square.
According to a news release, the measure would not require local governments to provide tax relief, and it is not retroactive to past disasters.
ACCG supported the measure because of the local control angle. Local governments know how much relief they can afford to give based on the severity of the damage and how widespread it is.
“We’re always supportive of local control, giving our local officials flexibility to do what they think is right for their area,” Mueller said. “Yes, this would create some property tax loss if they exercise it, but it’s within their control. As long as it’s within their control, we think they have the ability to balance the local needs – their needs for their budget and their citizens’ needs for some tax relief at a time that they’re dealing with a crisis.”
In the wake of a deadly March 2021 tornado that officials said caused more than $28 million in damage, President Joe Biden approved a major disaster declaration for several counties, including Coweta. However, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) denied the state’s appeal for individual disaster assistance.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp subsequently allocated $1 million to Coweta County from the Governor’s Emergency Fund.