Progress toward new tax exemption for Pickens’ seniors
By David Kelly
Pickens Seniors for Change, the local group advocating for changes to the school tax in Pickens County, appears to have reached agreement with local leaders for three alternative exemption provisions for a “straw vote” ballot question for registered voters of Pickens County.
This vote would be part of the ballot of both political parties at the next county-wide election, currently slated for Spring 2018. The ballot question with the most votes would then be presented to our Georgia elected official for presentation to the Georgia Legislature for approval.
The three alternatives have detailed language providing that each resident of the Pickens County School District who is disabled (physically or mentally incapacitated) or is 65 years of age or older, is granted an exemption from School Districts ad valorem for educational purposes for five years:
- For the full value of that person’s homestead of 10 contiguous acres or less
- For the full value of that person’s homestead, providing such person resides and occupies a homestead of not more than 10 contiguous acres and has household (homeowner and spouse) Georgia taxable income of $40,000 or less (adjusted annually using the annual Social Security cost of living adjustment [COLA] increase), excluding Social Security benefit (retirement, disability, survivor) payments as well as pension and retirement income
- For $153,400 of the assessed value of the owner-occupied homestead (adjusted annually using the annual Social Security COLA increase). This figure is based on the current tax exemption of Cherokee County. Years ago, Cherokee County instituted a tax exemption of $100,000 of the assessed value of a home with a cost of living adjustment. The current level is now $153,400. That means, because the assessed value is 40 percent of the fair market value of the homestead, Pickens residents would get a 100 percent exemption from school taxes as long as the fair market value does not exceed $383,500. Any excess over $383,500 would be taxed.
Clearly the first alternative—if the resident meets the age restriction—the resident gets the full tax exemption, has the broadest application and would be the simplest to administer, but would have the largest impact on school district revenue.
The other two alternatives suffer from an additional financial restriction, one based on income and one based on residence value, even though they both are adjusted for inflation. Because income and home values fluctuate over time, the resident could be exempt one year and not the next or could pay tax on the value over the set limit one year and not the next.
Each alternative would repeal the current homestead exemption, which applies to persons disabled or 62 years of age or older whose household income did not exceed $25,000.
This $25,000 income threshold, set many years ago and not adjusted for inflation, is believed to restrict most senior residents from obtaining the homestead exemption, making Pickens a less desirable place for senior citizens to live compared to neighboring counties.
Each alternative 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 to the voters an amendment to the then prevailing law.