Dear Decaturish – Tax break for seniors is important for DecaturMayor Emerita Elizabeth Wilson explained how the city changed the name Herring Street to West Trinity Place. Beacon Elementary and Trinity High replaced Herring Street School until integration of the Decatur School System was completed in 1967. Current Mayor Jim Baskett surprised Wilson, unveiling a banner with the new name of the open grassy lawn: Herring-Trinity Terrace. Mayor Baskett said a plaque will replace the banner. Photo by Dena Mellick
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I met Mayor Emerita Elizabeth Wilson after I moved to Decatur in 1996 and began working with her to help local seniors with various services. She is a friend and mentor. Mayor Wilson is an ardent supporter of Decatur’s senior citizens, as well as a long-time supporter of the City Schools of Decatur. She served as a District 2 City Commissioner for 15 years, and historically, as Decatur’s first African American Mayor from 1993 -1998. After retirement she remained active in Decatur, especially in the senior community. While there are five homestead exemptions on the November 8th ballot, I specifically asked her to tell me why she supports SB343, the homestead exemption giving tax relief to seniors.
In 2000 Mayor Wilson began an effort to assist local senior homeowners who could not afford to pay all or part of their city taxes. Along with other local community leaders, she collected various items and turned junk into treasure and with a “Junk Emporium” sold these items to collect money to help seniors in need so they could pay their taxes and not lose their homes. They interviewed seniors, determining income need, and used the money collected to assist with their taxes. All money raised for taxes was given directly to the city. “We wanted to do our share, some seniors really needed help, we wanted to help seniors keep their homes” stated Elizabeth Wilson. The time has come again, as property taxes have more than doubled, to help senior Decatur homeowners, giving them tax relief to stay in and keep their homes. Elizabeth Wilson is out front working to ensure passage of the homestead exemption alleviating the financial tax burden for seniors in our city, allowing them to age in place.
As she and I spoke, her values and love of Decatur were evident. She reminded me of how she came to the city in 1949 and worked to integrate the school system. She and her husband raised their family here, sending their children to City Schools of Decatur. She told me that many seniors currently living in Decatur, some for over 40+ years, also raised their families here, sending their children to city schools as well. In the 1970’s, it was recommended that Decatur schools become part of DeKalb County School System. Elizabeth, along with other Decatur citizens, disagreed and fought to keep the city schools separate from DeKalb County. “We all want a quality school system and a quality school board, both have been a priority for me,” stated Ms. Wilson, “at the same time we need seniors in our city, diversity has always been a value for Decatur, seniors add value and without diversity our city values will decline.”
SB343 is important and must pass, as the homestead exemption will enable seniors to keep their homes and remain in a city where they have lived for decades. Ms. Wilson reminded me of the cost savings to enable older adults to remain in their homes in Decatur. “Our school system is excellent and at capacity. We need seniors to keep their homes to save money for CSD. As homes are sold, it is likely families with children will move into homes and we cannot continue at a pace where all homes sold have kids in the school system.”
Passage of SB343 controls growth, maintains diversity and enables seniors, who have given back so much to our city, to remain in their homes without the worry of losing them. In addition, SB343 has a five year sunset clause that allows the school system to analyze the results of the exemption with the possibility of including an income or assessment cap in the future. Right now, it is Decatur’s best option and the right thing to do for a city that states it is “Better Together.”
We need your vote, vote Yes on all five homestead exemptions, especially SB343 on the ballot November 8th.
– Debra Furtado and Mayor Emerita Elizabeth Wilson