Decatur Voters Consider Tax Relief for Seniors
State Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta) and Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur) sponsored five local bills that passed the Georgia Legislature this session, which created the voter referendum on whether to give tax relief to seniors in the City of Decatur.
The first four of the City of Decatur’s five homestead exemption bills relate to municipal taxes only and do not affect school taxes. The fifth bill will affect school taxes.
Senate Bill 339 increases the General Homestead Exemption from 20,000 dollars to 25,000 dollars. This will benefit all homeowners.
Senate Bill 340 increases an existing homestead exemption from 1,000 dollars to 10,000 dollars for homeowners over 65.
Senate Bill 341 removes an obsolete homestead exemption.
Senate Bill 342 adds a new 15,000 dollar exemption for homeowners 62 years of age and older, whose annual incomes do not exceed 50,000 dollars.
Most important is Senate Bill 343, which relieves homeowners 65 years of age of school taxes. This bill would provide significant relief to seniors, enabling many to keep their homes and remain in a city where they have lived for decades. It also maintains diversity in Decatur.
At a June 15 City Commission meeting, former Decatur Mayor Elizabeth Wilson told the commissioners that if taxes keep going up she’ll no longer be able to afford to live in the city, according to Decaturish.
Donna and Bob Bohanan have lived in Decatur for 35 years and feel strong ties to the community, including neighbors, restaurants, bars, and stores. Decatur is home for the Bohanan family.
The November 08 vote on tax relief for seniors is critical for a lot of people who are long time Decatur residents and are now retired and living on fixed incomes.
“We don’t want to move but it’s a lot of money to pay each year for taxes. We need this tax break now,” Donna Bohanan said.
“I try to not take things personally, but I find myself thinking that if this vote does not go through then the majority of people in Decatur don’t really want people like me living here,” she said.
Russ Madison with the Revenue Division in Decatur gave an example of what the passage of these tax relief bills would mean for a low-income, 65 year-old senior living in Decatur with a home valued at 350,000 dollars.
“Instead of a 5,300 dollar tax bill for the year, it would be reduced by about three thousand dollars,” Madison told Atlanta Progressive News.
Some seniors over 70 with low incomes and home values may already be exempted from school taxes.
Judy Conder, another City of Decatur resident, does not have children, but has been paying school taxes for twelve years.
Now that she is retired and on a fixed income, Conder tells APN that “it is getting harder to come up with the money each year.”
“If the tax exemption doesn’t pass in November, unfortunately, I’ll have to move,” Conder said.
Condor is not alone, if these bills don’t pass Decatur will see a mass exodus of seniors who can no longer afford to live in Decatur.
Ironically, exempting seniors from paying the school tax is expected to be financially beneficial to the school system in Decatur. How so?
“When a senior sells their house, it is generally expanded or torn down to make way for a 4-5 bedroom home where multiple children move in, adding to the overcrowding of the schools,” in Decatur, Sen. Parent said in an email.
“By allowing seniors to remain in their homes longer, it gives the school system an opportunity to slow enrollment. It costs the school system less to allow the senior to age in place than to add 2-3 children to the system. In five years the exemption will be re-evaluated when adjustments such as an income or assessment cap can be included if needed,” Sen. Parent explained in an email.