In Pickens County, Georgia we have heated subject that recycles itself from time to time regarding our lack of school tax exemption for senior tax payers. In fact, most counties in Georgia do not have the exemption.
Before I begin, I will state that I am a senior. I hate taxes. I do not belong to any group seeking or attacking an education exemption on property taxes for seniors. I hope that when you read this you will appreciate the balance of facts. I don’t blame anyone for trying to save money.
When my kids were in the Cobb County School System, there was no property tax exemption for seniors. Someone else helped pay to educate my children, so I personally view the school tax I pay now as giving back to the system, even though I would like to keep the money.
There is no reason for the exemption that I can find, other than supposedly protecting someone’s grandma from suffering. There is no factoring of property value, income, or net worth of the property owner, and there is no upward limit. Senator Johnny Isakson is a very wealthy man who pays no school tax in Cobb County. He would probably tell you it’s not fair to lower income families. There are also no statistics on how much tax payers put into the system, and what they get back later after they make more money and live in larger homes with increased property tax.
Other counties have adopted the exemption for no apparent reason than commissioners generating votes and competing with neighboring counties. Most of them have a comfortable tax revenue base when they adopt the exemption. I do not believe Pickens has that luxury. Education is fortunately mandated by law, so someone has to pay for it. You can cut programs and teachers and increase class sizes to spare the budget, but you really only reduce quality in a state with already low education performance. On the other hand, fire and rescue, law enforcement, and road repair are not mandated. If you want a higher insurance bill because of a higher fire rating and a higher crime rate, or roads that are even more deplorable than now, that is where the funding for education would likely come.
Tax rates could also be increased. Low overall rates attract home buyers and new business. With a credit, the mileage rate would probably have to go up, adding to everyone’s overall bill, even if you have a credit. That would discourage people from living here. Businesses do not get an exemption on taxes and would locate elsewhere if the rates are lower. Another solution might be to reassess values.
Ironically, the key is to promote the county as a great place to live and work. When we get more tax payers and businesses to share the cost of running the county, everyone benefits not only from lower property tax but higher sales tax revenue. For those of us that moved here, we likely did so because we like the community, not because of anything to do with taxes.
The fact is that if I save a dollar on my tax bill for an exemption, someone else has to pay that dollar to cover my exemption and balance the budget. We don’t have deficit spending at the county level, so someone has to pay. In the end, it will probably be all of us, exempt or not. It may not be fair that someone in another county gets a tax break and I don’t, but that doesn’t mean it’s right or that they don’t have their own budget problems accommodating the exemption. It also doesn’t stop me from moving there if my only motivation in life is not paying property taxes, but that isn’t going to happen anytime soon. I like it fine right here!
Real estate figures are still trending upward, so tell all your friends we live in a great place. A friend of mine in Chicago pays more property tax than most here do in mortgage payments!