Update on Pickens seniors’ efforts to improve property tax exemptions
By David Kelly
Pickens Seniors for Change—the local group working to amend the current property tax exemptions for senior citizens of Pickens County—has made some progress since its well-attended public meeting in April.
Lee Williamson, the group’s leader, recently met with Pickens Commissioner Robert Jones, County Tax Commissioner Darren Satterfield and County Tax Assessor Roy Dobbs for guidance on how best to structure the amendment.
Support from county leaders is important to reflect local government agreement with putting the amendment referendum on the ballot for the next election. The alternative would be to have over 4,000 signatures on the petition available on the Pickens Seniors for Change website www.pickensseniorsforchange.com. Currently about half of the needed signatures have been received.
When asked for a statement on her position regarding the exemption amendment effort, Becky Denney, a long-time Big Canoe resident and Pickens County Commissioner, said “It is my understanding that state legislators have discussed this with concerned citizens. Also, the board of commissioners have had dialogue with the board of education. Therefore, it is in the forefront of the state & local government officials' minds. We will be working on the details of the solution of these concerns.”
The board of education is officially ambivalent on this subject, publicly noting that the board is not responsible for determining how property should be taxed for education purposes or the language of property tax provisions. Rather, the board’s role is role to determine the school district’s expense budget and to ultimately adjust the tax millage to have district income match expenses.
Currently the homestead exemption from the Pickens County School District ad valorem property taxes for educational purposes exempts those resident taxpayer households who have household income of $25,000 from all sources and are disabled or are 65 years of age of older.
There is no cost of living adjustment provision in the current exemption law. The $25,000 income threshold, set many years ago, prohibits most senior residents from obtaining the homestead exemption and makes Pickens a much less desirable place for retirees to live compared to neighboring counties.
Most counties in North Georgia do not have an income cap and none that do have such an income threshold exclude these types of income in their cap calculation.
Since the April meeting, Pickens Seniors for Change appears to have settled on detailed language proposed for the amended exemption provision consistent with what they believe will gain the commissioner, business and public support. On advice of Jones and other community leaders, Williamson proposes amendment language that would increase the income threshold to $35,000 (adjusted annually using the annual Social Security COLA increase) with the definition of income excluding Social Security benefit payments as well as pension and retirement income including IRA distributions.
In addition the proposed amendment language provides for a five-year trial period to determine if the effects of the revised exemption on property tax receipts have been significantly detrimental. This “sunset” provision is intended to appease potential voter concern that this amendment might dramatically reduce school tax receipts. At the end of five years, the proposed amendment gives the county commissioners the option of offering voters an amendment to the then prevailing law.
Pickens Seniors for Change also point out that a county-wide property value reassessment would largely, if not entirely, offset the impact of a broader property tax exemption for senior citizens. Williamson believes such a reassessment is long overdue and necessary to remove major anomalies in the current property tax rolls.