Decatur Schools committee studying Decatur’s senior tax break considers limits on age, income
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This story has been updated.
By Sara Amis, contributor
Decatur, GA — The City Schools of Decatur Homestead Exemption Committee is considering ways to revise the existing homestead exemption, set to expire in 2021.
They were charged by the CSD School Board with preserving the intended purpose of keeping senior members of the community in their homes while minimizing the impact on the school budget.
Currently, the committee is considering raising the age limit for the existing exemption and creating an income-adjusted version for seniors 65-69.
In the process of discussing possible revisions, both Hans Utz and board member James Herndon criticized the assumptions that the original exemption was based on. Utz also writes columns for Decaturish.
“The calculation [for the 2016 exemption] said that $142 million is the value of all homes that get senior exemptions in Decatur,” Utz said. “That number was assumed to be the value of all of the homes that could get senior exemptions in Decatur. No one ever thought to say ‘Well, if we have a bigger exemption, more people might take it.”
The maximum cost of a senior exemption to the school system was predicted to be $1.2 million, based on an incorrect assumption about the number of homes that could be exempted and an 18.66 millage rate which was raised to 20.250 in 2019. The actual impact has been larger. In 2019 for instance, the School District reported that the senior homestead exemption cost the district $3.5 million. Herndon said the tax break cost the school district $5.7 million in 2020.
Former City of Decatur mayor Bill Floyd reminded the committee that any new exemption must pass the CSD Board, the Decatur City Commission, the Georgia legislature, and the City of Decatur voters. A solution that is too cumbersome is likely to be rejected.
“If it doesn’t pass, you get no exemption,” said Floyd.
Floyd suggested raising the age for the exemption to 70 with an income-based exemption starting at 65.
“I don’t know anybody in my age group who retired at 65,” said Floyd.
The committee discussed but did not ultimately decide on a cap to home value for the exemption.
Philip Cuffey asked if the other committee members thought it was better to affect more residents with a smaller amount or do more for fewer residents.
“My opinion is that we need to help the people who needed help, and that was the point of this exemption in the first place,” said Gwin Hall.
Committee chair Paula Collins said, “I feel like we’re making some real progress. I feel like we’re walking out of a mud soup.”
The committee will present their proposals to the CSD Board at its September board meeting, and will hold meetings with the public sometime after that.
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