County breathes legislative sigh of relief

Staff Written News

By Tia Lynn Ivey

managing editor 

Morgan County leaders have been keeping a close eye on Georgia’s General Assembly session, tracking a number of proposed bills that could affect Morgan County.   County leaders were most concerned about proposed bills that would erode local control and enhance state officials abilities to override local leaders on issues such as building design standards and short-term rental laws. County leaders were also tracking bills that could potentially pave the way for broadband service in Morgan County and create a new tax revenue stream. 

According to Adam Mestres, county manager, most of the bills that would have a negative impact on the county did not make it through the last legislative session. 

 “As the General Assembly wraps up its 2019-2020 legislative session next week, local government officials worked hard to preserve our home-rule structure in Georgia.  As always, there were a number of bills presented this year that may have diminished Morgan County’s ability to govern issues locally that would have had a potential negative impact on our community,” said Mestres.  “We have shared our thoughts on a number of bills with Senator Burt Jones and Representative Dave Belton throughout the session.”

According to Mestres, the bills county leaders were most concerned with did not make it through the legislative session. County leaders were particularly concerned about House Bill 302 and Senate Bill 172 that would  would have prohibited local government’s ability to regulate building design elements in single or double family dwellings.  

“Morgan County residents take great pride in having a beautiful community that promotes an excellent quality of life components.  This bill, had it passed, would have preempted local government from setting such standards thus allowing for homes to pop up in neighborhoods/communities throughout the county that may take away from the beauty and tranquility of those areas current landscape.”

County leaders were relieved when those bills did not make it through the recent legislative session. 

County leaders were also tracking the progress of House Bill 532, which according to Mestres, would have preempted local regulations on most aspects of short-term rentals of property of eight days or less. Short-term rentals are gaining popularity throughout the county and state in which private homeowners rent out their properties to passing through vacationers. Morgan County passed a short-term rental ordinance in 2010 to deter short-term rentals throughout the county, prohibiting homeowners from renting out their properties for less than 30-consecutive days at a time.. But the new House Bill would have superseded the county’s ordinance, relaxing short-term rental regulations. “In short, local governments could not prohibit such rentals, impose occupancy limits, require registration of such properties, regulate rental frequency, or require licenses/permits for or inspections of such properties,” explained Mestres.  “This bill is especially important to our residents around the lake who call Morgan County home as they potential for them to have ‘new neighbors’ could rotate every eight days.”

County leaders are also tracking a few bills that are moving forward that could positively affect Morgan County. 

“There were a few bills that did ‘Crossover’ that have the potential to have a positive impact for Morgan County,” said Mestres. The county is hopeful that House Bill 23, which  authorizes EMC’s the ability to provide broadband service, will eventually help Morgan County secure better broadband service for county residents.  “ If this bill passes it certainly provides an additional avenue for the county to explore in order to make every effort to bring broadband access to our community in the future,” said Mestres. 

Another bill, House Bill 182, could potentially bring in more tax revenue for Morgan County from out-of-state vendors should it pass. 

“This bill would lower the threshold for Out of State Vendors who must submit sales taxes on goods.  Currently, the law is that Out of State Vendors do no have to submit sales tax on goods less than $250,000.  With the proposed legislation it would lower the limit to $100,000.  This would allow our jurisdiction to potentially receive more sales tax dollars from those out of state vendors,” explained Mestres. 

Other issues on the county’s radar include House Bill 316, which would mandate the replacement of voting machines in Georgia to enhance election security. The county has also been anticipating a loss in significant revenues due to changes moving forward on the Forest Land Protection Act. According to Mestres, the changes in how the state awards funds for lands in FLPA program could potentially cost the county and school board a collective $1.5 million in annual state revenues within the next five years. The state is revising the ad valorem taxes on qualifying properties and the methodology used to establish forestland fair market value.The program allows timber companies to place their lands in 15-year covenants, agreeing to forgo development of the land in exchange for a significant reduction in property taxes. The state then reimburses Georgia counties to compensate for the loss in tax revenues from participating timber companies. Previously, Morgan County had been the number one recipient of this program in the state. However, once the new methodology comes into effect in another five years, the county’s reimbursement rate is expected to significantly decrease. 

“It’s something we are continuing to watch and plan for in the future,” said Mestres at a County Commissioners meeting in early March. Mestres and the Morgan County Commissioners have promised to stay proactive in advocating for Morgan County’s best interest with the local delegation, comprised of State Representative Dave Belton and State Senator Burt Jones, and  working with state lawmakers as new bills are proposed that could affect Morgan County. 

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