The idea is being pushed by county Chairman Tim Lee, who hopes to have consensus from commissioners this summer to move forward with a HOST proposal. With the board’s support, Lee said he will ask Cobb’s legislative delegation to pass a bill allowing the county to hold a referendum in November 2016.
Candidates were asked if they support a HOST proposal during a recent debate at the Cobb GOP headquarters.
The tax would apply to all consumer goods, including food, and replace a portion of property-tax revenues.
HOST would raise county sales tax to 7 percent
Cobb has a sales tax of 6 percent: 4 percent goes to the state, 1 percent goes to the county’s SPLOST projects and another 1 percent SPLOST is for the Cobb and Marietta school districts.
A HOST tax would mean an additional 1 percent, raising the sales tax to 7 percent. A voter-approved HOST would be collected indefinitely, unless the referendum included a sunset date, or until a separate referendum is approved to end it. Lee has indicated he would rather not have a sunset date.
“Tim actually, I believe, called it a fair tax,” said retired Marietta Assistant Fire Chief Scott Tucker, one of the candidates.
“I think the good with that tax is the fact that it’s going to promote housing in that area. I think that’s a good thing because it also is going to relieve some of that tax burden.”
Some jurisdictions that tried the HOST didn’t have the commercial industry that Cobb has to support such a tax, Tucker said.
“So Cobb County could do the HOST tax greatly. They really could,” Tucker said. “We just have to be careful that we’re not burdened. If you understand this a little bit about how this works, you have to understand that we don’t need to burden our business owners with an additional tax unless there is a real benefit for the citizens.”
Former Acworth City Alderman Bob Weatherford indicated he liked the idea as well.
“I support putting this to the voters and letting them decide. But again, a HOST tax reduces the burden on the homeowners, not business owners, and it allows the millage rate to go down, 80 percent of that, and that’s to go to the homestead millage rate reduction, and the other 20 (percent) can be used as funding for the general fund. So I support that as a possibility once we vet it out a little bit more,” Weatherford said.
No further study is needed for former county Chairman Bill Byrne.
“I am very much opposed to a HOST tax concept, and anytime I hear any political figure use the term ‘fair tax,’ to me, that’s an oxymoron. It’s either a tax or it isn’t, and I’ve never met a fair tax,” Byrne said.
Businesses, Byrne said, do not pay taxes — they pass them on to their customers.
“They write the checks. Whatever the cost of taxation to a business person is, they pass that on to the consumer in the form of fees or prices for goods or services. So, ultimately, the consumer pays,” Byrne said. “If a HOST tax proposal would replace property taxes, that would be a different consideration. But this is in addition to property taxes and it appears to me as though Cobb County hasn’t seen a tax they don’t love.”
Candidate Glenn Melson of Powder Springs, a partner with Marietta-based Corporate Risk Advisors, was also critical.
“Well, here we go again. Let’s have some more taxes,” Melson said. “Let’s hit the taxpayer of Cobb County one more time. We’ve got to stop doing that. Our government has got to stop. It’s time to say ‘Look, we need to have a voice on this commission. We need to have a voice that’s going to stand up, that doesn’t mind standing up, that doesn’t get bothered by that.’ I will be that voice.”
Melson said the county government needs to find better ways of paying for itself rather than raising taxes.
“I would think we were Democrats as much as we talk about taxes,” Melson said.
Candidate Angela Barner of Acworth said it’s a matter to be decided by voters.
“It’s estimated that on a $200,000 house, it would save the homeowners about $500 a year. But yet again, the voters need to decide on whether they were in favor of this or not,” Barner said.
Barner said DeKalb County had some challenges with the rollout of its HOST, lessons Cobb would do well to learn from.
“It’s an even distribution, but yet again, it’s still a tax. My personal opinion really doesn’t matter because it would be for the voters to decide,” she said.
Clint Mueller, legislative director for the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia, has said a HOST creates zero new revenue for the county, though counties can choose to use up to 20 percent of the HOST revenue for capital expenses. Lee said he would like to use 10 percent of the HOST to pay for capital maintenance costs, such as upgrading computers.
The owner of a home assessed at $200,000 in Cobb pays $500 a year in property tax toward Cobb County’s general fund. The HOST would eliminate that expense on homesteaded properties.
In Cherokee County, for example, officials had estimated the HOST would generate about $18 million a year. The county needed about $11 million to completely wipe out county property taxes on homesteaded property.
Lee said Cobb County generates $129 million a year through its 1 percent sales tax and collects about $70 million a year in homesteaded property tax.