Pickens Seniors For CHange
Straw Poll questions on the upcoming (May 22, 2018) Primary ballot, for the Pickens County senior tax exemption
Option 1: Leave in place the current law.
Description: The current law provides that a homeowner who
(a) has a regular homestead exemption,
(b) reaches the age of 62, and
(c) has a gross income (as defined in the current law) of less than $25,000 for the entire household. (Note: this includes income from all sources, including social security and pension/retirement income)
May apply for exemption form school property taxes in the amount of the entirety (100%) of assessed value of the property containing the residence.
The school tax homestead exemption excludes both the ad valorem assessment for schools and any taxation on retiring school bonds.
Option 2: CONTINUE, BUT WITH STUDY COMMISSION - Leave in place the current law (as described in Option 1)
Establish a Commission that (1) shall hold forums to hear from citizens, businesses , Pickens County Government, and Pickens County Schools regarding the existing senior tax exemption from school property taxes and (2) shall forward to the Georgia General Assembly for the 2019 session recommendations on any desired changes to that exemption. (The Commission shall be appointed jointly by the Pickens County Republican Party and the Pickens County Democratic Committee.)
PIckens Seniors Note: The only option we have is Option 2. We DEFINITELY DO NOT want to leave the exemption "as is." That is what we are fighting to eliminate. Less than 450 homeowners are illegible for this exemption. The tax assessor's office is in violation of the law, because House Bill 854 states "income of all members of the family." Roy Dobbs (chief tax appraiser) interprets that to read as "entire household." I've approached him many times to adhere to the law, but he will not listen. His philosophy is, "I am always right, and you, the taxpayers, are always wrong."
Vote "Option 2"
Just thought I'd pass along more of the unethical (but, unfortunately, legal) dealings of the tax assessor's office.
Check your tax bill. This little "back door" tax increase has probably hit the majority of you.
Although the County and the school board tax mils were decreased this year, I got a whopping savings of $18 from last year's tax bill. The tax assessor's office increased the assessment on my homestead by $1459.00, so I was not granted the property tax decrease that a millage rate decrease offered. This deceptive little practice is known as a "back door" tax increase. If the tax assessor's office did this on the majority of the homes in the County, then basically NO ONE got to take advantage of the tax mil decreases. So the County can say, "Look, we graciously and generously gave the taxpayers of this County a mil rate decrease for 2017," and pat themselves on the back. But, they DO NOT go on to say that the tax assessors would INCREASE property assessments to make up for the decrease in the tax mill rate. This should be an illegal practice, but it is not. It is just a covert way to get more of your money.
It is interesting to note that the school budget went up from $42,940,989 to $45,331,000. And, the scores on the statewide school assessments this year (on the elementary level), plummeted. Just goes to show you that more money DOES NOT equal a better or higher-quality education.
We will keep pushing for the senior tax exemption.
Reprinted from the Pickens County Progress - September, 2016
In my quest to obtain property tax exemptions for senior homeowners, I have been criticized and threatened by those who do not agree with my approach and are opposed to the exemption...many of whom are involved one way or another with the politics in Pickens County.
Like many men (and women) who spend years embroiled in the affairs of the political arena, they forget the reason for their existence...the people, more specifically, the taxpayer. When those particular men and women cease working to please the voters, they become part of the political machinery, completely separated from reality and the common man.
I then falls to those taxpayers to bring these "lost sheep" back down to earth and remind them why they are in their position in the first place. Sometimes, it takes a harsh approach to do this. If I step on some toes or offend someone's delicate sensibilities, I make no apologies.
I don't do political correctness; I don't do the "diplomacy thing"; I don't bow and scrape; I don't tippy-toe around an issue. All of that is a complete waste of time and effort. I firmly believe that "the end justifies the means." If anyone is uncomfortable or offended with that, I, again, make no apologies. It is, after all, a kind of "war."
Politicians are ruthless in their approach to attaining their goals...or suppressing someone else's. In this respect, I am the same way. As Star Trek's Mr. Spock would say, "The needs of the many out-weigh the needs of the few." I believe in this cause and will continue fighting for it, whatever it takes. We, the senior citizens of Pickens County, desperately need this tax exemption.
Amos Amerson, retired state representative for Dawson County, in his attempt to obtain tax exemption for his county, was threatened, called foul names, and was proclaimed a communist. He pointed out that, when the referendum passed, those same objectors were the first to sign up for the exemption.
So, in long run, those who criticize and threaten me, do not matter. They are against our cause and will do everything they can to thwart our plans and our fight for tax exemption. In the end, they will lose.
Pickens Seniors for Change
The following letters are reprints from The Pickens County Progress
The school board's new budget proposals of the Parent Involvement Coordinator and the new Communications Liaison positions both overlap, therefore one of the two is unnecessary. Formerly the P.I.C. got paid $30,000 and now $80,000 at the stroke of a pen (and a school board vote on the budget) and increase of $50,000. So, this increase in the P.I.C. budget is justified to take care of what used to be P.T.A. issues? What a life! The Communications Liaison portion of the budget will receive and increase of $17,500.
These are the kinds of issue that the taxpayers of this County ought to be interest in, not just philosophical ones. Since, as far as I know, the schools derive their funds from the school portion of the property tax in this County, and since there are good arguments on both sides of the senior exemption issue (which will probably go on forever), what about just lowering the school portion of the property tax (maybe just a little). But, then again, with budget proposals like these, there will not be much, if any, chance of that happening.
Let me say that I have lived here for over 10 years and I really do love living here, and I'm not going to move because of issues like these (because it costs even more to move). But for a County of this size the property tax is just simply too high. Now, if we are not going to get any relief in this area, then let's work on issues like these.
I would just as easily be for an exemption for younger property owners if that proposal existed. I am not so naive to think that we could even have a school system if everyone (including seniors) were totally exempt. I am just asking for consideration of some lowering of the school portion, or lowering of the millage rate, or something!
One think I do NOT want to hear in the near future is a millage rate increase for the school portion of our property taxes. I mean we have E-SPLOST and we can see at least some unnecessary spending already. Also, I sure do not want to hear about "for the kids" because these particular two budget items do not help them whatsoever!
Maybe if there were clear descriptions of these two positions, then my view may change. But what would not change is the proposed expenses of them.
Signed: Robert Teal
I totally agree with the letters from Drew and Robert Teal. Shame, shame on the school board of Pickens County. You owe an apology to every taxpayer in the County. You held your cup to the taxpayers and shouted, "it's for the children." We didn't realize there was a hole in the bottom and the money leaked to create more bureaucrats. 80 grand worth. Thank you for the two school board members who voted against the proposed budget.
Please explain this to the fixed income seniors that you can pee away $80,000 while they are losing their home due to high taxes. Shame, shame, shame on you.
The weeks after the E-SPLOST passed, a school board member asked in this paper why anyone would vote "against the children." Well, an $80,000 bureaucrat position is your answer! What a rip off for the taxpayers.
It's too bad the money comes from a different budge. We have sheriff's deputies who put their lives on the line who don't get half of that. This is wrong. Next time instead of calling 911, I'll call the school board. I have no relation to the sheriff and his department. Just a concerned citizen. Next time the school board asks for another handout, I will personally place an ad reminding the taxpayers of what the school board did with their (the taxpayers) $80,000 dollars!
P.S. - Why, when the school board meets "behind closed doors" is it not a violation of Georgia Sunshine Law?
Signed: Richard Marsh
In this next letter, the response is in regard to a letter sent to the Pickens Progress (by Joe Fore) condemning the "Warning" ad that we place in the newspaper every week, warning potential home buyers not to buy in Pickens County, because the County does not have any type of exemptions for senior homeowners. Because of the low turnout of voters, he insinuated that our members did not vote in the May 24 election.
This letter is in response to the Letters-to-the-Editor from Joe Fore, 6/9/16, and Al Rothe, 6/16/16.
Thank you, Mr. Rothe, for your support of our group, Pickens Seniors for Change, and of our fight to obtain school tax exemption for senior homeowners. I was not going to respond to Joe Fore's letter, but after your response to him, I felt I owed it to the senior citizens of this County to do so.
"Yes," Mr Fore, we DID cast our votes in the County election. Thank you for your inquiry. I can't account for every member of our group, as they number in the hundred's. I did receive many emails asking my opinion on who to vote for. My answer was based on information gathered about the candidates, listening to their debates, and their responses to my emails.
Regarding, Mr. Fore, your candid opinion on the tax exemption for senior homeowners: ( FYI-he said it was a senior's duty to pay school taxes). It must be nice to be affluent enough to afford to happily pay the high property taxes levied in Pickens County. I commend you. However, not all senior homeowners are in that situation. Many struggle to pay them, and many others have to work part-time jobs to do so. The present $25,000 maximum income the County imposes (in order to obtain school tax exemption), includes social security and pensions, and benefits very few homeowners. Many seniors make just over the maximum amount, making them ineligible for the discount. If the County would exclude social security and pensions from the $25,000 maximum, it would help a great many homeowners who are in desperate need of tax relief.
And, Mr. Fore, I would be willing to bet that when the County does initiate the school tax exemption, you and others like you, will be among the first to sign up for it.
So, as you can see Mr, Fore, we are on top of things. Thank you for your interest. It shows that our "WARNING" ad does get attention.
Signed: Lee Williamson, Pickens Seniors for Change
I would like to address several issues I have read about over the last month or so, here on the letters page.
First, the elder discount being requested for property taxes is justified and seems to be OK with many other counties in this State, including surrounding counties. These other counties give much higher discounts to senior citizens more in line with today's income and economy, unlike the fiscal qualification requirements of Pickens County. They seem to be stalled in the 1980s. Some have expressed that seniors should be happy to provide education for children well in their 70's and even 80's. Really? At what point should they be able to stop? Maybe at death? I think we can all agree that socialism has gone too far. The discount will come, sooner or later. Anyone wonder why the tax commissioner has removed an important tax exemption from its website? It was for permanently disabled people for $60,000 off the assessed value and suddenly it is gone from the website? It is a state mandated exemption. Funny business going on in this County. People, go ask for your exemptions!
Secondly, based upon the school department's fiscal responsibility/efficiency rating done by the State, I see no reason to feel happy in paying for school taxes or even any more increases in their school budget, never mind their latest blunder of huge salary increases for jobs with no job descriptions! The department's rating is 2.5 stars out of a possible 5 star rating. To see this rating and compare to other counties, check the state website at http://ccrpi.gadoe.org/2015/.
Thirdly, the apathy in Pickens County of its citizens is beyond belief. But sadly, it appears no worse than the rest of the Country. Voting seems to be a thing of the past and done by only the die-hards. How lazy have Americans become? Apparently every bit as much as the rest of the world has described. Pathetic.
Signed: Anita Jones
Reprinted from the Pickens County Progress newspaper
Letters to the Editor - July 2016
Response to School Board.
Thank you for the lengthy explanation regarding the misreporting of salaries. However, in your article, you mention that PART of the budget discussion is "public record," but the meeting behind closed doors is not. I do understand that members can speak freely and the discussions may get heated and at times possibly personal. Nevertheless, the average citizen of this County knows ONLY what can be obtained in the records or published in the paper
Case in point: Last year the millage rate went up AGAIN. Then the ESPLOST was continued. And now we hear that "maybe" additional monies could be spent on a Parent Involvement Coordinator and a Communications Liaison. Neither of those positions have any clear job responsibilities that are posted. Only that the "duties have been increased." Increased from what? Would it be fair to ask what those duties are before asking the public to pay for this "potential" expense? I mean, these are public offices, right? Without any specifics, how are we to know if these jobs are worth it? Furthermore, I would think that the last thing a parent would want is to deal with some third party, P.I.C. when it comes to a parent-teacher relationship. Regarding the communications liaison, is that like a press person? Again, duties and responsibilities would clear this right up.
The bigger picture here, in my opinion, is the school budget in general. On October 27, 2015 edition of the Pickens Progress, the school board made it clear that the ESPLOST was completely separate from any general obligation from the County. That same article pointed out that the county's general obligation debt was $50,000,000. Yet the last paragraph on the ballot regarding the ESPLOST read (paraphrase) "if this passes then the school system gets an up-front $20,000,000."
In the published budgets from the County, there has been no time in which the ESPLOST has ever received enough revenue to pay back this or any other "up front" cash given to the schools. Since that is the case, then how can the school board debt "seem" to get paid off when the full ESPLOSH revenue is never collected? Where might that come from?
My main point is not about a couple of unnecessary jobs, or the assumption that the school board and the County are working together financially, it is that the tax is TOO HIGH! Every time something comes up regarding funding or buildings, they throw in the tax line, "it's for the kids' and that seems to appease the masses. And it works. But I ask this in summary: In what way does the Parent Involvement Coordinator, Communication Liaison, and a CLEARLY indebted County help "the kids"?
I am barely making ends meet. I need relief from our tax program.
Not only does Pickens discriminate against the elderly, they discriminate against the disabled. To get a disability exemption, you must have 3 doctors declare you as disabled. Then you must meet the household income of less than $25,000. This money includes renters in your home. In other words, rarely does anyone meet the requirements. They should not have the $25,000 per household, but per homeowner, or no limit at all. People on disability rarely have the money to go to 3 doctors, establish a relationship, then ask or a disability letter. Disabled persons like seniors should get a break. I was told this was voted in by the people of Pickens County. I seriously doubt they knew what they were voting for. I'm all for a change and am willing to do whatever to help see this changed for the disabled and seniors.
Letter to the Editor reprinted from the Pickens Progress - December, 2015
I would like to throw my two cents in on the subject on tax breaks for seniors. It would behoove the County to align itself with a similiar tax plan as surrounding counties that give tax discounts to senior citizens on property taxes. Soon retired citizens will get the word that it is financially beneficial to them to settle in Gilmer, Bordon, Forsyth, Fannin, Cherokee, or any other north Georgia county instead of Pickens County. These counties have a much more favorable tax plan for retirees. Of course, as Pickens County grows more and more families will come and settle here, but that just puts more burden on the seniors with property taxes to pay for schooling.
If a family has a child, the cost of schooling one child is not covered by the cost they may pay in property taxes for their home, say the average property tax is about $1500 per year. (not sure on that figure) Now let's say the family has more than one child, the cost of schooling is significantly higher for that family and the property tax stays the same for that family. Seniors have helped build this country have paid taxes and worked all their lives and in many cases, subsidized all those school years without children in schools. It's time for a break for senior citizens. Support the tax break as requested by Pickens Seniors for Change.
Letters reprinted from Pickens County Progress
Real Estate sales/listings are falling in Pickens County. Wonder why? Could it have something to do with our campaign of warning prospective homeowners not to buy in Pickens (because there is NO exemptions for senior homeowners). Read on:
Several weeks ago I read the article in your newspaper recapping Frank Norton's recent address to the Rotary Club. The article quoted him as saying that we should be reading our neighbor's newspaper. The implication is that what our neighboring counties are doing may have an impact on our community. I'd add to that suggestion that we pay attention to our neighbor's tax structures.
Somewhere in this newspaper I'm sure is the ad by the Pickens Seniors for Change. While I am not a member of that group its message is beginning to resonant with me. For the sake of full disclosure, I am a real estate broker located in Pickens, but a substantial part of my niche business is in other counties. So far this year, I've been involved in transactions in Cherokee, Dawson, Forsyth, and Murray counties. All of these counties give their senior citizens a break on the school tax as do all our surrounding counties. It's time for our county to at least begin addressing this situation. Pickens is fast becoming like that old, unoccupied family homestead which is completely surrounded by newer developments. While I applaud the owners for resisting change, I wonder how much the family is losing monetarily by doing that. In our case, we're doing it at the expense of our senior citizens and those people, including senior citizens, who are trying to sell their properties to new residents.
This "Letter to the Editor" (from Pickens Progress) is in response to a newspaper article from the Pickens Progress, entitled " County should know property zonings," (reproduced under our heading "Related News Articles.") This writer is right on the button. As we have continually published (said), it's time to clean house in Pickens County government, and stop the "doing business as usual," or, another often-repeated phrase, "we've always done it that way."
Kudos on a brave editorial of 10/1/2015 blasting the incompetence and "way too laid back" attitude of County officials and employees when it comes to the public welfare concerning how we all live and get along.
Online at library.municode.com is the complete Pickens County Land Use Ordinance Title 67. It was adopted into law in 2005. A copy was sent to every land parcel owner and a note from the County giving the option to change the zone assigned to your parcel to something more appropriate for your use. It had specific instructions of how to do this. If you didn't see this procedure through in a certain time frame, then your right to easily change was forfeited.
That said, by law there is only one zone district assigned to one land parcel. If the assessor's office now has the entire property parcel of 6.2 acres as rural residential, that's it. The County did its job. Since 2005, the County has taxed this property according to its zoning and use. The owner has received their tax bill/statement every year since. They are responsible to question its accuracy.
The idea that the Public Information Officer stated "that documentation could show otherwise," is ludicrous. If a request for rezoning was filed and subsequent tax bills were sent to the owner, then why is it now a County problem, as the PIO infers? As he tries to push this situation down the line to the assessor's office, it was Mr. Pope who was the person in charge of all zoning enactments in 2005. It was his office of planning and development that had the responsibility to send the then current and correct information on to the assessors office for "finalization" after the 90 day window elapsed. You may remember that Mr. Pope was removed from the planning and development office and then given his current job by our current commissioner.
It appears that you editorial staff got it right concerning this type of incompetency and bureaucracy. The buck did start somewhere, as when Mr. Pope handled the start of all zoning and all the zoning changes. The buck didn't stop there as it should have, but now continues in a form of a "mis-information" public officer, in which, on any given day, can give out to people and the news, his interpretations and feelings about land developments laws and county business, rather than to first review the law and research all the facts before giving official recommendations to the public, county commissioners and the newspaper. I have said it before, in my opinion, it is time to clean house with our county government along with their "friends," and install at election time, real business type people who are ethical and accountable to the public.
signed: Ronald Stanger
Every year more and more senior citizens move out of Pickens County because of the high property taxes imposed by the County. There are no exemptions or discounts for the elderly, unless they are impoverished.
Here are examples of emails received from these individuals:
M. .D. writes:
Ahh - the old too familiar DajaVu all over again.
In the 1990s a similar effort by a local group known as TBG (Taxpayers for better government) was put forth which after several years, resulted in a puny, almost laughable increase of "qualifying total household income," raising it from $20,000 to $25,000. This supposed "increase" included ALL total income per household including Social Security and any other retirement income. Nancy Maddox, her mom and dad, and others still alive are familiar with that extended effort. After much arm-twisting discouragement, State Rep. Garland Pinholster legislated a "committee" of locally prominent citizens to "study" what "he could do." Pinholster had already, several years earlier, legislated a biggie along the same lines, that amounted to something really significant for those seniors in Cherokee (where he lived). I really think Pinholster's Pickens County "study" was to find out what the school board and others would put up with more than what the seniors of Pickens needed. This "study" deal created a year or so of postponement before having to legislate any result and thus let Rep. Pinholster off the hook for another year. The "study" committee also refused to include a much-wanted and needed "C.O.L.A. that would have allowed things to keep up somewhat with what happens downline in the real world. (I believe I have previously mentioned your need for a C.O.L.A. in any efforts.)
The only thing I see different this time around are the names ofthose involved. You now have Rick Jasperse instead of Pinholster for State Representative, a different school board, and county commissioners and a different study committee. Perhaps they will see things different this time around, but don't count on anything favorable from "officialdome," that way anything that does get done will come as a pleasant surprise. Like many things where $$ are involved, you need to ask for 200% of what you want in order to get 25% of what you need. Being "nice" in a $$ request like this doesn't do the job and never will. Schools and most government entities, no matter how much, never have "enough." The idea of cutting costs, instead of always asking for more, is not inherit in their known operating systems or manuals.
I wish your efforts well. Don't forget publicity goes far in achieving what is needed whether it is tax relief or anything else. Good Luck.
Since all surrounding counties give relief to seniors, this should be offered by Pickens. Hope it gets on the ballot for 2016. I have never had a child in this school system, and am 76 years old, still paying and really resent it.
I just wanted to pass along some information that may be of interest. It seems that a mud bogging facility at the edge of Pickens County is in full swing and has been since 2012 (see website www.pigpenfamilymudpark.com) .......
Upon further investigation by some of the locals, it seems this facility is being operated on agriculture-zoned property which is against County ordinance. Not sure if they have been issued a business license.
Additionally, their website once had a scanned image of the former Pickens County director of planning and zoning, Joey's Lowe's business card. The card has since been removed from the site. I have seen a copy of the website page with his card on it. When locals questioned this to Mr. Jones and current land development office fill-in, Norman Pope, their response was "the owner of this facility knows a lot of politicians." Mr Lowe is no longer employed with Pickens County and his replacement, Albert Torres, is no longer there either. It sounds like to me some of the "good ole boys" may have had an incentive to get this business passed right along.
I have kept your email address since reading your section in the Pickens Progress months ago. I was so happy to see your opinion on the tax matter with seniors in this County. No, I am not a senior, but my parents are. My husband and I have been angered after researching and finding out about the millions of dollars owed in back taxes in this County. We both work and pay our taxes on time. I was appalled after looking on the tax records at the dozens of businesses in this County that owe taxes. We even printed 8 tax bills of businesses that owe back taxes and met with Commissioner Jones about this matter. When he looked at the bills, he asked, "What is this?" We said these are only a few of the still operating businesses in this County that owe taxes. He shook his head in disbelief and asked if Sharon Troglin knew about this. My reply was yes...but they are not getting collected and business licenses are still getting issued. Our suggestion was to stop issuing business licenses until taxes are paid. We also suggested seizing personal property to auction to help make up for this debt. A business near my home owes over 10K in business taxes dating back to 2009 and continues to operate everyday. Nothing is getting done to collect these funds and in my opinion we will never see it. If these funds are collected maybe we could cut taxes for our seniors. It is absolutely ridiculous. I have gone to numerous commissioner meetings especially around the time when the tax increase was put into place. Still, nothing was done on our suggestions to collect the back taxes. I just wanted you to know I appreciate your work in helping our seniors. If I can ever assist in helping toward this matter, I would be glad to. I am looking forward to hearing from you.
I've been living here for less than three years. The County has increased the value of my house twice, substantially increasing my taxes. I noticed from the public records that Commissioner Robert Jones' house has not increased in value for at least fifteen years. The value in 2000 is the same as the value in 2015. His property taxes has increased only $300 in those fifteen years. Mine has increased more than $300 in less than THREE years. The same is true for Commissioner Denney. The fair market value of her property has stayed the same since 2008. In those seven years, her property tax has risen only $100. The same with Commissioner Barnes. Since 2000 the fair market value of his property has remained the same, and during those fifteen years, his taxes have increased by less than $300.
Why hasn't the value of their properties been increased like the rest of us? Can you say "political favoritism?" Are you as outraged as I am? I smell an odor of corruption in this County. I'm going to be delving into other aspects of the additional public records links provided in your website. Thank you for exposing this inequity.
We are having to dip into our savings and will be for the foreseeable future in order for us to live here. We could surely use a break on property taxes to help us stay here and not have to sell the house.
If I'd known beforehand about the tax situation in Pickens County, I never would have moved here. It should be mandatory for Real Estate agents to explain the tax situation to potential home buyers. That way, they can make a more informed decision about where to buy a house.
We moved here from Roswell and were so upset to learn that there is no exemption for seniors for school taxes. It is unbelievable!
...my wife and I are in the same financial picture as most seniors....fixed incomes being eroded by inflationary prices for necessities,; taxes and insurance steadily increasing; cost of medical care getting higher, etc. Things would help significantly if we were relieved of the unfair school tax.
I have fought the County here in Pickens for years for the school tax exemption. We have lost many seniors to counties that give exemptions.
I am in the same situation and not sure why this County will not step up to the plate and do the right thing. It's a shame that a County in the shape we're in has to turn to the seniors taxpayer and ask for more taxes instead of providing the incentive for more seniors to move into this area. We need to move forward to push for this exemptions with our elected officials and let the seniors in this county know that our neighboring counties make it just fine in giving their seniors the break they need.
I advise everyone I meet who is considering buying a home in this County to go somewhere else, where they have exemptions.
I just wanted to write and let you know that both my husband and I are in total support of your effort to change the property tax to reduce the amount for senior citizens. We have been so unhappy with the fact that Pickens does not give seniors any tax break like the neighboring counties do. Can we find out what Gilmer County did to accomplish this?
I am a 76 year old senior citizen, a retired and recent widow. I am trying desperately to sell my home, which I can no longer afford to live in since my husband's death. I agree with your premise. I recently paid over $5,000 in property taxes, and at this rate I will "run out" of my savings if I should live many more years. I really NEED to sell my house.