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Georgia House expected to vote on Decatur schools senior tax break on Wednesday

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Georgia House expected to vote on Decatur schools senior tax break on Wednesday

The Georgia House of Representatives convened for a floor session on Monday, March 27, the second to last day of the 2023 legislative session. Photo by Zoe Seiler.

This story has been updated.

Atlanta, GA — City Schools of Decatur has been working on updating its senior homestead tax exemption. As the legislative session nears the end, it was unclear if the bill would be voted on, but the bill will be on the local calendar on Wednesday, March 29.

Wednesday is the last day of the legislative session. The school district has a redistricting bill in the House as well. That bill is on the supplemental local calendar for Monday, March 27.

Senate Bill 287 and 288 passed the state Senate on March 9.

The current exemptions for school taxes are:

– S-6 exemption: homeowners age 70 and above are eligible for a reduction of $200,000 of assessed home value ($400,000 appraised value) without an income cap.

– S-5 exemption: provides an exemption of $200,000 of assessed home value ($400,000 appraised value) for seniors aged 65-69 with a household federal adjusted gross income less than $53,000.

The school board did not make any changes to the S-6 exemption. The board increased the dollar amount of the household adjusted income for seniors ages 65-69 from $53,000 to $62,000 for the S-5 exemption. The board maintained the exemption of $200,000 of assessed home value ($400,000 appraised value).

The school board aims to extend the senior homestead tax exemption for an additional five-year period.

If the homestead exemption were not to pass the state House, the S-5 and S-6 exemptions would expire at the end of this year and would no longer be available to seniors. There are several other homestead exemptions that apply to city and school taxes, and those would still be available.

“Our lobbyists are continuing to work with our delegation to move our local legislation through the approval process,” School Board Chair James Herndon previously said. “If the local senior tax exemption legislation is not approved, the Senior tax exemption will expire on Dec 31, 2023. If the reapportionment legislation does not pass, the district will be out of compliance with state law on redistricting.”

Home prices in Decatur have appreciated at a rate that far exceeds income increases across the board, said Paula Collins, who chaired the citizen task force that previously worked on the senior homestead exemption.

“That’s definitely the case for our seniors living on fixed incomes,” Collins said. “Some seniors, especially our most financially vulnerable, will definitely be priced out without the exemptions. They will not have the option to age in place. We will, effectively, be driving them out of our community.”

The previous version of the exemption provided an unlimited homestead tax exemption for seniors 65 and older that went into effect in 2016 and ended in 2021. In this version, seniors 65 and older didn’t pay the school portion of their taxes. That exemption was expected to cost CSD an additional $1.2 million per year over existing exemptions. It ended up costing the district almost $2 million more a year than expected, resulting in the tax exemption being revisited.

“That was not sustainable. The CSD-appointed citizen committee, which I chaired, was charged with crafting recommendations to balance the community’s needs with our school system’s,” Collins said. “That was not an easy task, since it meant taking back some benefits some of our seniors were already receiving.”

The S-5 and S-6 exemptions were meant to meet those needs in a balanced way. When those exemptions went through the General Assembly in 2021, the timeframe of the exemption was cut short to two years.

“While it passed overwhelmingly at the polls, that shortened timeframe means we do not yet have the data needed to craft policy,” Collins said. “Sound policy decisions require strong data. Two dots on a chart does not make a trend line. We need the extension, the full five years of it, to collect the proper data, analyze the trends, and allow that data to inform the policy moving forward.”

She added that this exemption has been before Decatur voters twice and passed with strong community support each time.

“People who live here understand the economic forces at play. They also value living in a diverse community – a topic that is deeply ingrained in the [city of Decatur] 2030 strategic plan,” Collins said. “This is a well-thought-out exemption, with reasonable age and income limits, and it needs the full five years of data to ensure crafting a balanced policy moving forward.”

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