By: Robin Ford Wallace, Reporter
feeling high – and local voices raised – about proposed changes to Dade
County’s so-called 65/5 school tax exemption for seniors, the Sentinel spent a
few minutes last week gathering specifics about the tax break from the county
tax assessor’s office.
enacted in 2005, spares Dade residents 65 and older from paying the school
portion of the county real estate tax on their houses plus five or fewer acres
of land. As written, House Bill 302, sponsored by then-Rep. Martin Scott by
local request, specifies no upper limit on home value exempted from the school
tax provided claimants meet the age requirement.
Superintendent Shawn Tobin and sitting county school board members wish to
institute one. Board members in October
voted unanimously on a resolution asking that the exemption be modified to
exclude only the first $125,000 of an eligible home’s appraised value from the
tax. That would allow most Dade homes exemption eligibility but allow the
schools to collect their percentage from higher-end residences.
resolution, the school board pointed out it was hurting for money, with
crippling cuts in its funding from the state, and said 65/5 was costing it
about $960,000 more a year in lost revenues, estimating the amount at about
$600 per affected residence.
Paula Duvall of the tax assessor’s office specified that her figures, though
taken directly from the tax rolls, are also estimated. “Our numbers kind of put
all the exemptions together,” she said. She explained that most ordinary
homeowners are eligible for a $2,000 homestead exemption, and other exemptions
may also apply.
In any case,
Ms. Duvall said that to date 1,312 residences in Dade are exempted from the
school tax under 65/5, and her calculations put the yearly amount that takes
from the school board as around $800,000.
Ms. Duvall said
more taxpayers show up at the office to sign up for the exemption, if not every
day, then at least every week.
And she noted
that taxpayers do need to apply for exemption; it doesn’t automatically kick in
when their 65th birthday rolls around.
“It’s almost impossible to know when someone turns 65,” she said. “We
don’t have birth records.”
But she says
the information on Dade tax bills makes it fairly clear what tax exemptions are
available and how to claim them, and in any case: “In Dade County, it’s very
well known,” she said.
Ms. Duvall said
not everybody does claim the break. “We have had people not apply for it that
are eligible for it,” she said.
though: “I could probably count those on two hands,” she added.
How much of a
break is the exemption, and how much would it cost a homeowner if it were
modified as the school board has requested? Ms. Duvall took the Sentinel
through the calculations on a Lookout Mountain home with a total value of
Without the senior
exemption, the tax would be $1,972, she said, but since the owner had applied
for the exemption, the yearly amount was around $800. And if 65/5 is amended as
the school board has requested to charge the tax on home value in excess of
$125,000, the tax would go up to $884.
One taxpayer in
roughly that situation whom the Sentinel reached for comment says that’s fair
“I would still
get a break this way but I would be contributing to the schools,” said Lookout
Mountain resident Ginnie Sams, 71. “Even though I don’t have children in the
schools here, the children in this community are important to me. I want them
to have the best possible opportunities.”
Ms. Sams said
she was in favor of the proposed amendment and added that she’d taken an unscientific
poll of friends and neighbors and found that many felt the same way.
Sentinel readers have used the newspaper’s website to express themselves as
opposed, with varying degrees of vehemence, to any tax increase for any purpose
happen now? The school board has requested action on its resolution from Dade’s
representatives in the Georgia government, with the aim of getting the measure
to referendum. District 1 Rep. John Deffenbaugh was scheduled to appear before
the Dade County Commission on the subject at the body’s November meeting. “He
called us and asked us to put him on the agenda,” said Commission Chairman Ted
sent in last-minute regrets for the Nov. 7 meeting, and contacted by the
Sentinel last week by cellphone about the matter, said he was in a meeting and
would discuss it later.
He had not
returned subsequent multiple phone calls by press time on Monday.