Pickens Seniors For CHange
This letter was mailed to each of the three Pickens County Commissioners on May 7, 2015. (along with the attachments mentioned)
To the Pickens County Commissioners:
Commissioner Jones stated at a recent venue, "send us a plan," referring to questions regarding the lack of property tax exemptions for senior homeowners.
Attached, you will find not one, but four plans for senior exemptions that are approved by our group.
In addition, at the same venue, Commissioner Jones incorrectly referred to the matter as being in the hands of the School Board. Georgia Law states the role of the School Board:
The County Board of Education, an elected body, establishes the annual budget for school purposes
and they then recommend their mill rate, which, with very few exceptions, must be levied for the
school board by the county commissioners.
The school board possesses no legal authority concerning property tax exemptions. The school board cannot dictate policy, even if they are the largest employer in the County.
The role of the County Commissioners office is defined as follows:
The Board of County Commissioners, an elected body, establish the budget for county government
operations each year, and then they levy the mill rate necessary to fund the portion of the budget
to be paid by Ad Valorem (property) tax.
Also included, is a copy of the Georgia Code governing the taxation power of county and municipal governments.
Another option favored by our group is the increase of the income threshold. Right now, Pickens County limits the income threshold (for school tax exemption) at $25,000. As an added outrage, the present threshold includes Social Security and Pension income.
Our group suggests increasing the threshold to $45,000, EXCLUDING Social Security and Pensions. Enlarging the income threshold could be done without the approval of Rick Jasperse and the Georgia Congress, and would not have to be placed on a ballot.
The school board and the commissioners seem to be "worried" about losing the lucrative revenue from the higher income areas of Pickens County. Increasing the income threshold (to suggested amount), as opposed to offering tax exemptions, would exclude many of the so-called "rich" people in the more expensive areas of Pickens County.
Another item that Commissioner Jones seems to be overly-concerned about is the status of Pickens County. He states that Pickens County is a "wealthy" County, and that we have to share our education dollars with the "poorer" counties. There are other so-called "wealthy" counties (Dawson, for example) who share their education dollars, but they still give meaningful tax discounts or exemptions to their senior homeowners.
ALL of the counties surrounding Pickens, and all of the counties represented by our two Senators, Charlie Bethel and Steve Gooch, provide some form of meaningful tax exemptions for their senior homeowners.
Gilmer County has a population of 28,579, of which 20.8% is over the age of 65; unemployment rate 6.4%; median household income $39,140.
Whitfield County has a population of 102,599, of which 12.4% is over the age of 65; unemployment rate 8.1%; median household income $40,471.
Gordon County (the eastern half is represented by Senator Charlie Bethel), has a population of 55,757, of which 12.9% is over the age of 65; unemployment rate 7.0%; median household income $40,926.
Murray County has a population of 39,267, of which 12.6% is over the age of 65; unemployment rate 8.5%; median household income $34,888.
Lumpkin County has a population of 30,918, of which 15% is over the age of 65; unemployment rate 6.7%; median household income $43,775.
White County has a population of 27,797, of which 20% is over the age of 65; unemployment rate 6.0%; median household income $40,670.
Union County has a population of 21,566, of which 30.7% is over the age of 65; unemployment rate 5.0%; median household income $40,009.
Fannin County has a population of 23,760, of which 24.6% is over the age of 65; unemployment rate 6.9%; median household income $34,239.
Dawson County has a population of 22,686, of which 17% is over the age of 65; unemployment rate 5.3%; median household income $53,525.
Pickens County has a population of 29,584, of which 19.6% is over the age of 65; unemployment rate 5.5%; median household income $51,383....and NO meaningful tax exemptions for senior homeowners.
As you can see, there are several counties that have similar populations and similar percentages of senior populations as Pickens County. The majority of them have household incomes less than Pickens County, yet manage to prosper without over-taxing their senior population. Your refusal to grant meaningful tax exemptions to senior homeowners is a shame and disgrace to this County.
Union County has only a population of 21,566, with a whooping 30.7% of their population being over the age of 65. Yet, they have an unemployment rate of only 5.0%. AND, they provide property tax exemptions for their senior homeowners.
Fannin County has only a population of 23,760, with a 24.6% of their population being over the age of 65. Their unemployment rate is also low...6.9%. They also provide meaningful tax exemptions for their senior homeowners.
Do you see where this is going? Pickens has a larger population (29,584) and a smaller percentage of seniors (19.6%), yet provides NO property tax relief for their senior homeowners, unless impoverished.
Here are some figures to contemplate: Say the tax exemption is voted on and passed, and every senior homeowner signs up for it. Allowing 2 seniors per household (29,584 x 19.6% divided by 2), and assuming each senior homeowners pays $900 in school tax, that make a total of $2,609,550 less in school taxes collected. The balance of the population (23,785) would be required to pay only an additional $110 (or less) to make up for the difference.
Of course, these figures are only approximate, and would not represent the true totals. Some senior households have only one occupant. Some senior homeowners pay more school tax, while others pay less. There would be some seniors who would not sign up for the exemptions, and some of the population do not pay property taxes.
Many home and business owners pay very little taxes because of the inequities in land valuation. The valuation of properties would have to be brought up-to-date. We have checked with the tax assessors office and found that the values of some of the properties have not changed in FIFTEEN years. This is unacceptable and needs to be remedied. According to Georgia law, it should be done EVERY year.
In addition, there should be a concentrated effort to collect all the back property taxes owed this County. Per State and local law, the homes, businesses, and land of the delinquent taxpayer can be foreclosed on, and the property sold on the courthouse steps. The would provide much-needed revenue for the County. Why is not being done? According to the tax records, many of these property owners are in arrears two, three, four, or more years.
Our point is: Some meaningful tax exemptions for senior homeowners is sustainable and viable for this County and has to be put in place. It will require a lot of work and the cooperation of our County leaders. But, the benefits would be enormous: population growth, which attracts more business and commerce, which, in turn, leads to increases in the tax revenue, which leads to higher visibility, which leads to greater tourist attraction, which leads back to population growth.
No one can stand in the way of progress.
It's time for a change, Mr. Commissioner. Tax discounts and/or exemptions for senior homeowners are considerably over due in this County.