Pickens Seniors For CHange
Reprinted from Pickens Progress - October 27, 2016 issue
"WE NEED TO PUT A FIGURE ON THIS," SAID JONES
Commissioners want to see dollar and cents of senior exemption
Responding to a recent discussion about senior tax exemption by the Pickens County Board of Education, county commissioners have requested a meeting with the school board to discuss the topic.
At their work session on Thursday, October 20, Pickens' Commission Chair Rob Jones brought up the issue, calling it "heated to say the least."
Pickens Currently offers a full exemption for residents over 62 who have a household income of less than $25,000. Pickens Seniors for Change and other seniors want this income threshold to be increased, adjusted or to be fully exempted from school taxes.
The school board was addressed by Pickens Seniors for Change member Lee Williamson at their Oct. 13 meeting. She said, "senior residents are "being taxed into poverty," and are angry about what she called stall tactics from county and state leaders to get the ball rolling on an exemption.
There has been a question as to who is in charge of bringing the issue to vote, but school board members, citing Georgia Code, were in agreement that they are not the county's "governing authority" and are not responsible. Still, the board agreed that because their budget would be impacted, they would like to have input.
County attorney Phil Landrum, III, who is also the school system attorney, said that in his experience legislators want a resolution from both county and school boards before they introduce legislation to get a resolution on the ballot. This resolution would show a unified effort from both entities.
Commissioner Chair Jones said he wants to see research about the impact of an exemption in dollars and cents before moving ahead.
"We need to put a figure on this," Jones said.
Both Landrum and County CFO Faye Harvey said hammering down a actual number is a challenge because records in the assessor's office do not include age of the property owner.
Landrum referenced one county that implemented a senior tax exemption. He said the exemption turned into a "financial disaster for their school system, and we don't need to do that to our school system. We're not in charge of the school system, but that is one of the bigger economic engines that we have here. If you have a bad school system everything else is bad."
Unlike counties such as Dawson, the attorney added, Pickens does not have tax revenue from big industry to offset those exemptions.
"We don't have a million coming in from sales tax," he said. "We don't have a 400 corridor with that type of commercial activity. If this is a blanket senior tax exemption what impact will that have? How much of the digest are we giving up?"
Commissioners directed Landrum to draft a letter requesting a meeting with the school board.
A letter signed "A Friend."
"I used to live in Pickens County in the late 1990's. We got Garland Pinholster to finally introduce legislation to increase the household income limit from $20,000 to a paltry $25,000 for a senior reduction in school taxes, which, as you know, are the major costs to citizens property taxwise. Then became an extended effort by a group known as TBG (Taxpayers for Better Government), and although we were grateful for whatever increase obtained, it was still woefully short of what was wanted and shorter far less of what was needed.
Pinholster, the then current legislator for Pickens area, was proud of what he had done for the residents of Cherokee County (where he lived) with his exemptions created legislatively several years earlier, which was far more liberal and included a C.O.L.A.
(cost of living adjustment). He (Pinsholster) created a "committee" to "study" what Pickens needed in this regard, which let him off the hook for another year. This study committee was of several "prominent" local citizens who were sort of "on the fence" (between the local politicos and the local peons) in their ideas . As a result, Pickens seniors got far less than, even then, was needed, and the "committee" refused to include a C.O.L.A., which would have allowed any exemptions to keep up with whatever happens in the future.
I no longer live in Pickens, but I encourage your efforts and stress that without a C.O.L.A., whatever you may get today or tomorrow in exemptions for seniors, will have little meaning several years downline. Your group should NOT agree to legislation that does not include a C.O.L.A.
There is much more to say, but I wanted to stress the need for legislation that will keep any change made, current with whatever happens in the future, whether it be UP or DOWN. A C.O.L.A. should always be included in ALL legislation that has a set $$ value established, but sadly, most legislators will downplay such an idea unless it directly affects themselves. You also need to get as much publicity as possible for your efforts to help succeed. Good luck."
Regards, A Friend.
Reprint of an article from Pickens County Progress - August 2014
MAN SEEKS TO INCREASE INCOME THRESHOLD FOR SCHOOL TAX EXEMPTIONS
Pickens resident Tony Chastain says the County's current maximum income required to receive an exemption on school tax is outdated and unfair to people living at or near the poverty level.
Current County policy allows school tax exemption if the resident's household income falls below $25,000.
"That amount was put into place years ago and everything is more expensive now," Chastain said. "My insurance is up 10 percent. My cost of living is up 30 percent."
Chastain draws Supplemental Security Income and he said the total household income is just barely over the minimum amount.
"I'm not exempt because my income is $2,000 or $3,000 over," he said. "So basically I'm using tax money to pay taxes."
Chastain has spoken publicly to the board of commissioners, who directed him to the school system for advice on how to initiate the process of having the maximum income increased. He thinks households earning $35,00 or less should be exempt.
But Pickens school system CFO Amy Smith can't change the minimum income for school tax exemption by itself. "We don't have control over that," Smith said. It's not a function solely of the school system."
Chastain has plans to be put on the September school board agenda to state his case again publicly.
"This is crazy," he said. "We're losing residents to other counties who have exemptions. Everyone I go to in the County is blowing me off."
Chastain pointed to Gilmer, where citizens over the age of 65 are exempt from school tax, and Cherokee, where residents over the age of 62 are exempt from up to $383,500 of the fair market value (of their homes).
END OF ARTICLE
LETTER TO THE EDITOR - JULY, 2015 - REPRINTED FROM THE PICKENS COUNTY PROGRESS
I would like to make some comments about paying "fair share" of property taxes, which seems to be the mantra these days. What exactly does that mean? It seems "fair share" means someone else pays more than others, so that some will not have to pay their "fair share." My husband and I have worked a combined total of 85 years. That is 85 years of paying in to at least state and federal taxes with a majority of no refunds.;
the last 45 years of paying property taxes, with our children being out of the school system for 28 years. So, clearly, we have paid our "fair share" to cover costs and then some. Those 28 years we have contributed to the school system for other to use, for which we go no use from. Now that we are retired, we could use a break, too. It is time for others to pick up the reigns and contribute their "fair share." I would still like to know WHO decides what someone's fair share is? In Pickens County, the services we get for our money are not that great. The roads are terrible for the most part; yes, we have a Sheriff's office, and we have county water and an EMS, but no fire dept. (where I live), and no trash pick-up, so I would like to know what we get for our money? A good portion of our tax bill goes to support the school system, which we do not use. Other counties that we are surrounded by, give tax discounts to their seniors, and we deserve the same for contributing to the greater good for many years.