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By: Robin Ford Wallace, Reporter


With local 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.

The exemption, 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. 

But Schools 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.

In its 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.     

Chief Appraiser 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.

Not many, 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 $231,530. 

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 enough. 

“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.

But other 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 at all.

What will 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 Rumley.

But Deffenbaugh 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. 



Visitor Comments
Submitted By: rex blevins Submitted: 11/22/2013
follow up to 65/5 exemption. conservation exemption does more damage to the county and school budget

Submitted By: rex blevinx Submitted: 11/20/2013
the school board plans to present an exemption to get rid of part of the 65/5 exemption. when is the school board and county going to get their head out of the sand and realize exemptions are the problems. For the hundredth time have someone with the courage to present this to our reps in Atlanta ps with the SB exemption some tax payers that are now paying will be EXEMPTED. check it out see paula for lower taxes do away with all exemptions. this can be proven if anyone wants to listern

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