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City Schools of Decatur Senior Homestead Exemption Committee holds first meeting

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City Schools of Decatur Senior Homestead Exemption Committee holds first meeting

Mayor Emerita Elizabeth Wilson, left, CSD Superintendent Dr. David Dude, right. Wilson is a member of the Senior Homestead Exemption Committee Photo by Sara Amis
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By Sara Amis, contributor 

Decatur, GA – The committee formed by City Schools of Decatur in order to consider future options for the senior homestead tax exemption held its first formal meeting via Zoom on April 22.

Currently, there are nine members, including Meg Robinson who is a parent member of the CSD System Charter Leadership Team; Bill Floyd who was chosen by the Decatur City Commission; Maria Pinkleton chair of the Lifelong Community Advisory Board; Paula Collins representing the Decatur Affordable Housing Coalition; Phil Cuffey chair of the Beacon Hill Equity in Housing Committee; Sheila Payton representing the Decatur Business Association; Gwin Hall who is Senior Associate General Counsel for the Georgia Municipal Association; Hans Utz who is an expert in municipal finance and a contributor to Decaturish; and City of Decatur Mayor Emerita Elizabeth Wilson.

“We want an exemption so that seniors can continue to age in place,” Board of Education member James Hearndon said, adding that the charge of the committee is to find a way to do that within the budget constraints set by the CSD Board. “The committee charge also includes a discussion of equity, the racial dynamics of increasing housing prices, the way that has put pressure on certain sections of the Decatur population.”

Referring to the report on the effects of the senior tax exemption that Georgia State University conducted, Hans Utz said, “One of the things that jumped out to me was that despite the exemption, municipalities in the Atlanta region had precisely the same rates of seniors leaving as we had experienced in Decatur. I’d like to know if we have any information from any municipality, not just in Georgia, where effectively a tax rebate actually moved the needle on aging in place and folks staying in their homes.”

CSD Board Chair Lewis Jones said that while the GSU study indicated that the exemption had had no effect so far, “We are not suggesting to eliminate the exemption…The Tableau tool they created for that study is the tool that we have to turn the dials in terms of age limits and value limits to come up with an exemption that will meet the needs of our budget. The reason we need to limit the exemption is that we can’t afford it as it’s currently configured. The question then becomes what is the best way to equitably distribute the $1.2 million we have allotted to senior tax relief.”

“How is this connected to other things the City of Decatur is doing?” asked Robinson. “I don’t want to go beyond the scope of what we’re being asked to do here, but any background information on what else is available and how it’s connected to other things that the city is doing would be beneficial.”

The City of Decatur has a number of other exemptions available but Collins pointed out that some of them went into effect in the 1980s and the qualifying income levels have not been changed since then.

“It’s a head-scratcher,” she said. “If it’s tied to anything other than area median income, and those numbers aren’t updated it becomes…not useful very quickly.”

Floyd said that predictive tools have limited usefulness.

“You don’t really know what something is going to do until you do it,” he said and emphasized the value of being able to adjust to changing conditions, if possible.

Jones, the CSD Board Chair, said that the board had accepted the idea that the exemption was not going to reduce enrollment, but remained committed to offering tax relief to seniors. He added that within the parameters and budget set by the CSD Board, “We’re very open to the committee’s priorities. We worked hard to get a broadly representative group of people to serve on this committee.”

The committee is expected to solicit public involvement, develop their recommendations, and bring them to the Board of Education by September 1, 2020.

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