Many older Coweta residents stand to benefit from a proposed increase in property tax exemptions, but not everyone is in favor of a bigger tax break.
Of the 91 comments left on the Coweta County School System’s senior tax exemption website, an overwhelming percentage favored adjusting the current schedule to provide more tax relief for residents ages 65-older. The website, which included tax information, links, contact information and proposed adjustment scenarios, was open for comments from Sept. 12-Oct. 3
However, approximately 13 percent – 11 of the 85 respondents who indicated a preference and were not duplicates – opposed providing or increasing exemptions for older Cowetans.
Several of those commenters said they believe education is a shared financial responsibility.
“Educating our children is the responsibility of everyone,” one wrote. “I understand fixed incomes, but I also understand the need for better schools, fairly paid teachers and increasing the opportunities for the county’s youth in public school,” wrote another.
A 64-year-old commenter objected to the idea that while his grandparents and parents shared in the cost of educating young people, his generation wants exemptions instead.
“Some in my generation were glad to receive the benefits of the sacrifices of others but do not wish to make similar contributions,” he wrote.
One respondent said seniors in favor of an additional exemption are fighting on the wrong front.
“Seniors benefit from our excellent public school system and the value (and taxes) of their properties has increased in large part because we have a high-quality public school system,” he wrote. “Their energy would be better spent in stopping the attacks on Social Security… so they can live in security and dignity without short-changing our schools.”
Men are becoming fathers later in life, according to statistics provided by one commenter, allowing some to benefit from both a tax break and the public school system funded by property taxes.
“In my neighborhood alone, I know of two couples where the husband is aged 60 or older and has elementary school-aged children,” he wrote. “Why should they exempted from a portion of their taxes while younger parents are not?”
While they said they appreciated the opportunity to express their opinions, some commenters questioned the use of online surveys to solicit input from older Cowetans who may not be familiar with or comfortable using technology.
Online surveys are one of a variety of platforms used by the school system to solicit public input, according to spokesman Dean Jackson. In the case of senior tax exemptions, the online survey was utilized after months of direct discussion with Coweta residents.
“They and other citizens spoke to the (Coweta County Board of Education) during their regular meetings throughout the year,” Jackson said. “The board examined those issues and additional information from the county tax assessors office at their budget workshops. That same information was placed on the school system's website for wide public review, and an email link was established to provide an additional way that interested citizens could express their thoughts and ideas.”
Unlike online surveys for issues like school calendars, which asks participants to vote on different options, the senior tax website was designed to provide information that allowed visitors to analyze the issue and provide optional feedback.
“The school system uses different means to expand public input on issues,” Jackson said, citing ongoing public input sessions on the school system’s Strategic Plan, which are being held at middle schools and other public locations. “Those are broader efforts used to spur and expand public comments and participation, along with the ongoing participation we get through system committees, school councils and PTO and other school functions, as well as direct citizen discussion.”
The Coweta County Board of Education voted 6-1 in October to propose adjusting its current property tax exemption schedule, which was implemented in 2003, to provide an additional $1.8 million in relief for Coweta seniors.
Subsequently, the Coweta County Commission unanimously voted to execute a resolution to forward the proposal to Coweta’s legislative delegation, which will decide whether to introduce local legislation to put it on the ballot for Coweta voters to decide.