When Georgia legislators came up with the idea of giving tax incentives to people who move to rural areas, they didn’t intend to target cities like Augusta, Columbus and Macon.
Nevertheless, those cities are on the initial list of areas considered “rural” by the Georgia House Rural Development Council.
Of Georgia’s 159 counties, the council identified 124 of them for incentives because they experienced less than 5 percent population growth during the past five years.
That broad definition of rural includes seven counties with more than 100,000 residents in 2016, according to U.S. Census data.
“That would concern me,” said Rep. Jay Powell, the council’s co-chairman. “What we’re trying to accomplish is to ... reverse the trend of losing population by attracting wage earners.”
Lawmakers will likely change the list of eligible counties so that tax incentives are focused on truly rural areas with smaller populations, said Powell, a Republican from Camilla. Details will be worked out during the 2018 legislative session, which begins Jan. 8.
Under the incentives proposal, lawmakers would create a program to offer state income tax deductions of up to $50,000 annually for 10 years to new residents of rural counties. That yearly deduction would double to $100,000 in counties that also give property tax abatements to new residents.
Here are the most populated counties in Georgia that fit the loose definition of rural, according to U.S. Census population estimates for 2016. Those counties’ largest cities are in parenthesis:
- Richmond County (Augusta), 201,647
- Muscogee County (Columbus), 197,485
- Bibb County (Macon), 152,760
- Lowndes County (Valdosta), 114,628
- Fayette County (Fayetteville), 111,627
- Whitefield County (Dalton), 104,589
- Bartow County (Cartersville), 103,807
The 124 Georgia counties identified for incentives
Identified counties are colored in green.
Data analysis by Mark Neisse, map by Jennifer Peebles/AJC