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Report about impact of Decatur’s senior tax exemption delayed

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Report about impact of Decatur’s senior tax exemption delayed

The Active Adult classes at the Decatur Recreation Center. Photo from Be Active Decatur
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This story has been updated. 

By Logan C. Ritchie, contributor 

A report detailing the conclusions of a property tax study has been delayed.

Superintendent David Dude announced at the School Board’s Sept. 10 meeting that findings of the property tax study were deferred to October.

Dude said, “We do not have the final report yet. I did get the feedback yesterday … and it’s looking really good. I think it’s going to be incredibly helpful to us. I would anticipate that we will have it for the October meeting, and probably early enough that we can attach it to the agenda.”

Decatur Schools expanded tax breaks for seniors after the School Board asked voters to approve a $75 million general obligation bond for school construction, which voters did in 2015 by an overwhelming margin. Borrowing money means higher taxes to pay off the debt.

The tax break, which was also approved by voters and took effect in January 2017, was partially a way to alleviate concerns about the school tax burden on seniors. It exempts any homeowner in Decatur over the age of 65 from paying school taxes.

The initial estimate of the costs to the school system was $1.2 million per year. That was way off, however. The current estimate of what this tax break is costing City Schools of Decatur is $2.4 million per year. Combined with other exemptions, CSD lost $4 million in revenue in Fiscal Year 2017-2018. The projected loss for Fiscal Year 2018-2019 was $4.8 million, CSD Finance Director Susan Hurst previously said.

The report is intended to estimate of the impact of the exemption over the next 10 years and provide recommendations on how to modify the tax break when it comes up for renewal.

The Decatur School Board also disbanded a committee to review matter, saying it was no longer necessary.

As Decaturish reported Aug. 14, 2018, Decatur School board members Garrett Goebel and Heather Tell planned to head up a Property Tax Study Committee to review how the city’s senior tax break is affecting the school system’s finances.

However, Goebel, whose School Board term ends in December, said that committee was disbanded before it ever met. Tell said it made sense for an outside agency to study the issue.

A research team from GSU, hired by the board to conduct a study on property tax, hoped to present the results at the September board meeting in time to plan for the 2020 legislative session. Dude did not state a reason for the delay.

Dude said, “We’ll also work on the communication plan because obviously there are some folks that think this is an imminent decision, and it’s not an imminent decision. We have probably the better part of a year from now to actually talk about this and figure out what to do. So, we are working to get accurate information out to the community to make sure they know that this is the start of the process, not the end of the process, and that the report kinda kicks off the conversation. We’re not voting and making decisions at this point.”

Executive Director of Operations Noel Maloof and Research and Analytics Director Heidi Whatley presented a monthly report on housing development in Decatur, as it correlates to rising numbers of students.

Currently, housing units in the planning and/or proposal stage in Decatur total 1,001; units under construction in Decatur total 529.  Whatley said it cannot be predicted how this growth will increase student population because while some are four-bedroom units, others are for seniors only.

“Over the course of the next several months we will have more data,” Whatley said.

However, Westchester Elementary School proved to be growing when a fourth Kindergarten class was added in August. The School Board unanimously approved a budget expenditure of $531,356 for a Kindergarten teacher, paraprofessional teacher, classroom materials, and an early intervention professional.

Dude added, “We also added two staff, one at [Fifth Avenue Upper Elementary] and one at Clairemont, for special education. We had quite a few students show up that had needs beyond what we could serve with the existing plan and special education staff.”

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