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State Sen. Elena Parent files bills on Decatur Schools senior tax break, school annexations

Annexation and new cities Decatur Metro ATL Trending

State Sen. Elena Parent files bills on Decatur Schools senior tax break, school annexations

State Sen. Elena Parent.

Decatur, GA — State Sen. Elena Parent on March 11 filed two bills related to the City Schools of Decatur. One would extend a senior tax break and the other would be a compromise on annexation hammered out CSD and DeKalb County Schools.

The tax break bill, Senate Bill 292, is expected to pass early next week, Parent said. The other bill regarding annexations is Senate Bill 293.

Copies of the bills were not immediately available.

Senate Bill 292 was approved by the Decatur School Board back in December.

It is intended to replace an existing unlimited tax break, called a 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.

The CSD Board formed a committee which held its first meeting in April of 2020.  The committee’s charge was to come up with an alternative that would stay within the original budget of $1.2 million over existing exemptions so that it will cost the district in aggregate no more than $4.3 million.

In order to preserve as much tax relief as possible for economically vulnerable seniors, the committee suggested creating two separate exemptions with different requirements based on age.

The new version provides an exemption on $200,000 of assessed home value ($400,000 of appraised value) for seniors aged 65-69 if their income is at or below 80% of the adjusted median income for the Atlanta area. That income figure is $52,980 for a two-person household. 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.

It must be passed by the Georgia legislature and approved by voters in November 2021 before going into effect in 2022.

The annexation bill is intended to resolve disputes over school district boundaries when annexations occur. 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.

During the summer, DeKalb County Schools and City Schools of Decatur came to the — virtual — table and hammered out their differences over the issue. As part of the arrangement, the city of Decatur approved a 12-month moratorium on annexations.

More details about the compromise should be available soon.

When the City Commission approved the moratorium on annexations, City Manager Andrea Arnold explained the negotiations in a memo to city commissioners.

“Currently, when the city annexes property into the city, school-age children residing on the annexed property are eligible to attend the City Schools of Decatur,” Arnold’s memo says. “Simply, the service boundaries of the city of Decatur are coterminous with the service boundaries of the city schools. Over the past couple of years, there have been efforts by the DeKalb delegation to pass local legislation to separate these boundaries so that annexations by the city would not extend the service boundaries of the city schools. This would result in some residents living in the city but not having access to the City Schools of Decatur. As [School Board Chair Lewis] Jones explains … members of the Board of Education have been discussing financial impacts of any future annexations on the DeKalb County school system with the DeKalb school board.”

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