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Political Debates
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It was standing room only last Monday night at the Dade County Board of Education meeting. Several Lookout Mountain residents were there to voice their concerns on the proposed changes to HB302. House Bill 302 exempts senior citizens from paying school tax on their home and five acres.

By: Eddy Gifford, Publisher


The Dade County Board of Education held its first regularly scheduled meeting of the New Year last week and what was expected to be a short meeting turned into a three hour debate on House Bill 302.

House Bill 302 exempts senior citizens from school tax on their house and five acres of land and was approved by Dade County voters in 2006 by 73 percent approval.

Dade County Schools Superintendent Shawn Tobin opened the meeting with a power point presentation and handouts explaining how much money the school system has lost over the last few years, not only from HB302 but from state funding as well.

Superintendent Tobin explained that the school system has had to cut expenses through cutting programs, cutting staff, cutting school days, cutting paid days for teachers and administrators and cutting benefits.

While making cuts the system has to contribute more for insurance and re-work bus routes to be more efficient.

With over 1,700 senior residents currently signed up for the exemption the school system is losing approximately $1,289,450 based on the average cost of a home in Dade County being $125,000.

Tobin also pointed out that the number of seniors in Dade County is increasing and is currently 15.8 percent, up from 11.8 percent a few years ago.

During the public input the first to speak was Veronica Moore, a Lookout Mountain resident.

Moore stated that the 65/5 exemption was a great relief and greatly appreciated by seniors whose checks have stopped, health concerns and a failing economy. She added, “Money is not the only key to success in education.”

Lynn Hartman was the next to speak, also a Lookout Mountain resident. She also spoke in opposition to the changing of HB 302. Hartman stated, “You are sending a message of division and conflict in Dade County.” She also referred to a recent article in the Chattanooga News Free Press and called statements by Superintendent Tobin as harassment and called the reasoning behind amending the bill as a socialistic idea.

Hartman was the first to question the wording of the amendment as it relates to fair market value. This conflicts with HB 918 and HB 919 as they pertain to the freeze on property values. Hartman stated the wording indicated seniors would pay on the fair market value instead of the frozen value as is the case now.

Gary Summers spoke next and gave a handout to those in attendance with his 12 points against modifying HB 302. One of the points Summers made was quoting from the Jan. 12, 2014, Times Free Press article quoting Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, “Significant amount of additional funds for education will be done in such a way that it will relieve much of the pressure school districts have been under.”

In addition Summers pointed out the school system just recently received $314,454.54 from the Preserve settlement.

Ginnie Sams was the first to speak in favor of the amendment change. “When I built my house I recognized the value of the house is not the end of the expenses of the house, there are repairs, utilities, and property taxes. I built that into my budget,” she said. Sams points out that the voters should decide if they agree or disagree with the Board on the amendment. Sams is also from Lookout Mountain.

David Moore of Lookout Mountain pointed out that some taxes would increase three-fold and in some cases even four times what they are currently paying. “That is a hard number to swallow,” Moore stated. He also referred to the Times Free Press article about additional state funding.

Joseph Donovan, also of Lookout Mountain, pointed out that the value of one’s home does not relate to the ability to pay taxes and stressed the need to at least clarify the language as it relates to HB 918 and HB 919.

Former Dade County Commissioner Sarah Moore of Lookout Mountain was next to speak and she pointed out she was one of the Commissioners who requested HB 302 in the first place. “As a new Commissioner in 2005, when Ben Brandon introduced this, I had not done a lot of the research I should have done. It would not have passed. I feel the voters should be given the opportunity to vote on this and it should not affect HB 918 and HB919,” Moore stated.

Don Hartman of Lookout Mountain said he didn’t read the rules of speaking to the Board of Education before hand and had questions for the Board and Superintendent. Since he couldn’t do that he said as a lawyer he would disagree and that the amendment would affect HB 918 and 919.

Hartman also stated he was sorry it has come to an argument. “What the school board hears and the audience hears is a well orchestrated argument by Superintendent Tobin. It has been presented from an adversarial position by the Superintendent and that’s his job,” he added.

The last person to speak was Jamie Blevins of Lookout Mountain who supported the amendment but agreed that the effects on HB 918 and HB 919 should be looked into. “People need to vote their conscience and just let the amendment be put to a vote,” he said.

In the business portion of the meeting the Board approved the consent agenda that included additional fundraisers for Dade High School, Dade Middle School, Dade and Davis Elementary Schools.

Also Board Policy JB – Changes to High School Attendance was approved as well as a change order on a SPLOST project; Reeves Heating and Air bid for repairs.

Also approved was the weather make-up day for Monday, Feb. 17.

Action items at the meeting included the purchase of video surveillance system for Dade Elementary School from Intec. SPLOST money will also be used for the purchase.

Superintendent Tobin then gave the general fund financial reports for two months and the meeting was adjourned.



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