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School tax increase proposed for city of Decatur residents

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School tax increase proposed for city of Decatur residents

File photo. Left to right: School Board Chair Lewis Jones, Superintendent David Dude, and School Board member Garrett Goebel.
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By Sara Amis, contributor 

The ongoing expansion within City Schools of Decatur and the unanticipated cost of a tax break for seniors is driving a proposed increase in school taxes.

A senior tax exemption reduced revenue by $2.3 million in 2018 and $3.5 million in 2019. The school homestead tax exemption approved in 2016 applies to seniors 65 and older, saving seniors $993 on every $100,000 of their home’s value.

“The short answer is that the senior tax exemption has probably cost the district more money than we initially anticipated,” School Board Member Annie Caiola said. “That is by no means the only factor that has gone into the need to raise the mill, but it’s one factor.  We are continuing to study the effects of the senior tax exemption.  It has a five year sunset on it, so nothing’s going to happen to it during that five years, but we are studying what if any changes to make to it going forward.”

A study being conducted by Georgia State University will examine whether the senior exemption is working as intended to keep seniors from moving out of Decatur.

“We thought that by helping seniors stay in their homes, we could also curb enrollment because there would be fewer families moving in with little kids,” said Board of Education member Heather Tell. “One of the challenges that we’ve been dealing with for the last nine years is that our school system’s enrollment has doubled.  Managing enrollment was one of the intended outcomes of the senior exemption.”

Salaries and benefits for school system employees ($67.7 million total) are the largest items in the general budget, followed by supplies and equipment ($4.2 million).

Increased enrollment and attendant costs, including new hires and operating costs for the new Talley Street Upper Elementary, account for the largest increase in expenses.

“Traditionally, opening a new school costs the school system about one mill. We were able to not raise the mill when we opened Westchester,” said Caiola.

New hires throughout the system plus start-up costs for Talley Street amount to about $2.7 million.

Other new expenses include a $3,000 raise for faculty recommended by the governor, a 2 percent cost of living increase for other system employees, curriculum development and purchase of new instructional materials.

The City Schools of Decatur Board of Education is planning to raise the millage rate used to calculate taxes by 1.590 mills, from 18.660 to 20.250.  The board states that this will increase homeowner’s property taxes by no more than $79.50 per $100,000 in assessed value; however, this would be in addition to any increases based on this year’s tax assessments.  Homeowners with a general homestead exemption will see a smaller increase, while those with a senior homestead exemption will see no increase.

The first of three required hearings was held on Tuesday, June 18, 2019. The second and third hearings will be held at 8 am and 6 pm on Tuesday, July 16, 2019.  The final millage rate will be set at the Board of Education’s regular meeting at 6:30 p.m. on July 16.

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