With Quality Basic Education fully funded, austerity cuts restored and the special one-cent local sales tax for education continued, the Coweta County Board of Education will be taking a closer look at its property tax schedule for residents 65 and older.
At the board’s May 8 meeting, Assistant Superintendent for Financial Services Keith Chapman said that Coweta County had “provided us some information, some different scenarios, about what the cost might project out to be for the system” to further reduce school property taxes for senior citizens.
Chapman said depending on the scenarios, the school system could lose $1.6-$1.8 million in revenue by increasing senior citizen exemptions from school property taxes. But the current tax schedule is 15 years old and property values may change drastically in 2020, after appraisers complete their revaluation of every residential and agricultural property in Coweta County.
Currently, senior citizen exemptions are based on age. Those age 65 to 70 don’t have to pay school tax on the first $100,000 of their homestead’s property value. Those age 71 to 74 are exempt from taxes on $150,000 in value, and those 75 and older are exempt from the first $200,000 in value. Exemptions are based on the owner’s age on Jan. 1 of each year.
The board is working its way through the budget process, which means it’s a good time to review senior exemptions, according to Superintendent Steve Barker.
“The best time to review a revenue change and expenditure change is while you’re looking at the budget numbers,” Barker said. “Take (the information) and look at it as you consider questions for the budget.”
According to information provided by the county, more than 8,400 properties owned by residents aged 65 or older benefit from school tax exemptions. Of those, 3,300 are completely exempt. While totally exempting the remaining properties is unlikely – it would cost the school system about $4.5 million in lost revenue each year – the board may consider adjusting exemptions to fall more in line with the current cost of living.
Coweta resident Jeff Binion, who spoke to the board about senior tax exemptions at a meeting earlier this year, addressed the board again at its May meeting, again encouraging board members to protect the financial security of seniors.
“The cost of living index has risen 36.4 percent (since 2003),” said Binion, who met with Barker to review the scenarios provided by the county after he first spoke to the board in March. “This particularly hurts vulnerable senior citizens…those that are living on fixed incomes.”
Binion said he is concerned that some of the seniors who currently are totally exempt may be forced to begin paying school taxes again if their property values increase in 2020.
“I ask you to search your hearts and think about this,” Binion said. “Not everybody is doing as well as the neighbor next to them.”
Chapman said that if the board did consider a change in the exemption schedule for seniors, it could not go into effect immediately.
“It’s a little bit of a process,” Chapman said.
It would require “local legislation” to be passed in in the Georgia General Assembly. Such a move normally encounters no opposition, Chapman said, but the first opportunity to bring it up would be spring of 2019.
“If that were to be approved, it probably would not go into effect until the next January, because property taxes are assessed as of Jan. 1,” Chapman said. “If they were to do that spring of ’19, it would probably be January of 2020 before any change would go into effect.”