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UPDATE: State legislature passes Decatur schools redistricting bill; House approves senior tax break Wednesday

Decatur Metro ATL

UPDATE: State legislature passes Decatur schools redistricting bill; House approves senior tax break Wednesday

Georgia State Capitol. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Update: The House approved the senior homestead tax exemption bill at around 10:50 a.m. on March 29. Decaturish will publish an article soon. Here’s our earlier story… 

Decatur, GA — The Georgia General Assembly has passed the bill that redistricts City Schools of Decatur’s election districts. 

The school district has another bill, Senate Bill 288, going through the state House that would update its senior homestead tax exemption. The bill is on the local calendar and is expected to be voted on by the House on Wednesday, which is the last day of the session. 

Decatur has two election districts that are the same for the school board and the city commission.

For the city commission, redistricting is done by amending the city’s charter. The commission approved the new election districts at in November 2022, meeting and the change went into effect on Jan. 1. District 2 now extends to cover more of downtown Decatur.

City Manager Andrea Arnold previously explained that there was enough of a difference in the population of the city commission and school board districts to require redistricting. The election districts have to meet the one person-one vote requirement. 

“The concept is that districts within a political entity not be so disproportionately populated as to diminish the voting strength of any of the citizens, i.e. the voting strength of citizens in one district should not be greater than the voting strength of citizens in another district just because there are fewer people in one district enjoying the same amount of representation compared to a more populated district,” Arnold previously wrote in a memo.

Redistricting is needed if the difference from the ideal district population is greater than 10%. Decatur’s ideal district population is 12,464 and the total deviation was 11.41%, based on the 2020 Census.

The new districts have a total deviation of 0.16%, or a difference of 20 people.

“With the proposal with extending District 2 east along the existing boundaries of East Ponce de Leon [Avenue] and East Howard [Avenue], starting at North McDonough [Street] going over to North Candler [Street],” Arnold previously said. “Essentially, we’re moving 701 people from District 1 into District 2. The District 1 population would end up at 12,474 and the District 2 would end up at 12,454. I’m not sure we can get a whole lot closer…to the ideal district population.”

Senate Bill 287 and 288 passed the state Senate on March 9. SB 287, which updates the election districts, passed the Senate with a 51-0 vote and the House with a 157-0 vote. 

SB 288 updates the senior homestead tax exemption. The school board did not make any changes to the S-6 exemption, which provides a reduction of $200,000 of assessed home value ($400,000 appraised value) for homeowners age 70 and older without an income cap. 

For the S-5 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 bill extends the senior homestead tax exemption for an additional five-year period. If the bill is passed, it will head to Gov. Brian Kemp for his signature, and would then be on the ballot as a referendum in November. 

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.

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 formerly worked on the senior homestead exemption.

“That’s definitely the case for our seniors living on fixed incomes,” Collins previously 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.”

DeKalb Commissioner Ted Terry greatly supports the passage of both bills. He believes that doing so will have a tremendous impact on the community, a spokesperson for Terry said. 

“Regarding the homestead exemption bill specifically, it is crucial that we aid our seniors whenever and wherever possible, ensuring that they can age in a community they are familiar with,” the spokesperson said. “This is further supported by informational and educational programming he has offered and continues to offer through Grandmama’s House to seniors to help them apply for these crucial exemptions.”

Grandmama’s House is a locally owned organization that helps seniors age in place by offering resources, educational programming and workshops to help them feel empowered in homeownership as they age, she added.

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