Decatur Schools senior tax cut bill passes Legislature, heads to governorFILE PHOTO USED FOR ILLUSTRATION PURPOSES: The Active Adult classes at the Decatur Recreation Center. Photo from Be Active Decatur
Decatur, GA — A bill that seemed like a sure thing became the subject of last-minute intrigue on Wednesday when the House – on the last day of the Legislative session – approved a bill giving tax cuts to seniors living in Decatur.
The tax cuts would apply to City Schools of Decatur taxes and Senate Bill 292, which will need voter approval if the governor signs it, replaces an earlier and more expensive version of those cuts, known as a Senior Homestead Tax Exemption.
CSD initially asked for a 5-year extension. For reasons that aren’t clear, the Legislature reduced that to two years.
“SB 292 provides tax relief for Decatur seniors by providing an exemption on $200,000 of assessed home value ($400,000 of appraised value) for seniors aged 65-69, if their combined household income does not exceed $53,000 (80 percent of the median income for the Atlanta area),” a press release from CSD said. ‘Seniors aged 70 and above will also receive the same exemption on $200,000 of assessed home value ($400,000 of appraised value) but without an income cap. The original language of the bill included a five-year sunset to allow for future re-evaluation but during the legislative process the legislators shortened it to a two-year sunset.”
The Legislature already had passed Senate Bill 293, which resolves disputes over school district boundaries when annexations occur. That’s also waiting for Gov. Kemp’s signature.
Senate Bill 292, the senior tax break bill, will replace an existing unlimited homestead tax exemption for all seniors 65 and older that went into effect in 2016 and will sunset in 2021.
That exemption was expected to cost the school district an additional $1.2 million per year over existing exemptions; however, it cost an extra $3.5 million in reduced revenues in 2019, and an estimated $5.7 million in 2020.
To make up the shortfall, the district raised the millage rate from 18.66 to 20.25 and reduced some services.
In addition, the School Board had hoped that the exemption would slow enrollment increases by encouraging seniors to stay in Decatur rather than selling their homes. A subsequent study conducted by Georgia State University indicated that the exemption did not have that effect.
There was no sign that the senior tax cut bill was in jeopardy until Tuesday evening.
On March 30, a day before the last day of the session, the Decatur School Board signed and released a letter showing support for Senate Bill 292 and Senate Bill 293, the annexation bill. That show of support is also an indication the School Board won’t do the same thing it did to a similar annexation bill in 2019.
In 2019, Gov. Brian Kemp vetoed Senate Bill 53 following a last minute push by City Schools of Decatur to reject the legislation. That bill would’ve made school annexations separate from municipal ones, meaning they would need to be approved in a separate referendum. CSD paid a lobbyist $10,000 to encourage the governor to veto it, saying they were unaware the bill existed until it passed the Senate. That move by CSD ticked off the city’s legislative delegation.
It’s unclear whether any lingering feelings over that episode played into the School Board’s March 30 letter and the 11th hour passage of the homestead exemption bill. Decaturish will follow up with the Legislative delegation for more information.
Here’s the full announcement from CSD about the passage of Senate Bill 292:
The City Schools of Decatur Board of Education is pleased to announce the passage of Senate Bill 292, which replaces the expiring Senior Homestead Exemption. The Board would like to thank the bill’s sponsor, Senator Elena Parent, for her work on getting this bill through the legislative process.
SB 292 provides tax relief for Decatur seniors by providing an exemption on $200,000 of assessed home value ($400,000 of appraised value) for seniors aged 65-69, if their combined household income does not exceed $53,000 (80 percent of the median income for the Atlanta area). Seniors aged 70 and above will also receive the same exemption on $200,000 of assessed home value ($400,000 of appraised value) but without an income cap. The original language of the bill included a five-year sunset to allow for future re-evaluation but during the legislative process the legislators shortened it to a two-year sunset.
In related news, the CSD Board reached a compromise with DeKalb County Schools and offered its support for Senate Bill 293(a bill which provides “conditions upon the expansion of the boundaries of the City of Decatur independent school systems that are extended by annexation by the City of Decatur”) so that this senior homestead exemption could move forward.
Since the original bill’s passage on April 16, 2016, the Board has studied the effects of the exemption on the district’s budget and the original objective of the senior exemption — to provide tax relief to seniors and help them afford to age in place. This included commissioning a study by Georgia State University evaluating the impact of property tax exemptions on the CSD’s tax digest. Click herefor more information about the Senior Homestead Exemption.
Once SB 292 has been signed by Governor Kemp, the exemptions will be on the November 2021 ballot. If approved by Decatur voters, the exemptions will go into effect on January 1, 2022 and remain in effect through 2023. Due to the last-minute decrease in the sunset provision, the Board will work with the DeKalb delegation to address that in a future legislative session.
Thank you for your continued support of our Decatur senior community members, and we look forward to seeing this question on the ballot in November.
Writer Sara Amis contributed to this story.
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