Former Decatur mayor asks commissioners to lower tax rates for seniors

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt June 16, 2015
Mayor Emerita Elizabeth Wilson explained how the city changed the name Herring Street to West Trinity Place. Beacon Elementary and Trinity High replaced Herring Street School until integration of the Decatur School System was completed in 1967. Current Mayor Jim Baskett surprised Wilson, unveiling a banner with the new name of the open grassy lawn: Herring-Trinity Terrace. Mayor Baskett said a plaque will replace the banner. Photo by Dena Mellick

Mayor Emerita Elizabeth Wilson and Mayor Jim Baskett attend the Beacon Municipal Center dedication. File Photo by Dena Mellick

Former Decatur Mayor Elizabeth Wilson told City Commissioners that if taxes keep going up she’ll no longer be able to afford to live in the city.

Wilson showed up to the June 15 City Commission meeting with other seniors who said the same thing. The seniors said they played a vital role in turning Decatur into what it has become, but now they are struggling to remain in the city they’ve called home for decades.

Commissioners adopted a millage rate of 12, reduced by 1 mill from the present millage rate. That’s still technically a tax increase. Wilson and other seniors were concerned about tax bills they’d received in the mail. Total property values in Decatur are projected to grow by 20 percent over last year.

“We have worked hard over the years with the schools, with the recreation parks department and never once did we think that we would be faced with the possibility of losing our homes because we cannot afford to continue to pay the high taxes,” Wilson said.

Wilson and other seniors asked Decatur to cap the millage rate for elderly residents, most of whom are on a fixed income. Some of the homeowners who showed up made their comments from their chairs in the audience because it was a struggle to walk to the podium in front of the commission dais.

“Buckhead came to Decatur. Decatur didn’t go to Buckhead,” one resident told commissioners. “The houses we grew up in, they haven’t changed.”

Seniors are also faced with the prospect of a $75 million bond referendum that’s on the ballot this November. That bond, if approved, would pay for school construction and raise property tax rates by 8 percent.

Commissioners said they have limited ability to reduce the tax rates for seniors. Mayor Jim Baskett noted that the city tried to get the state Legislature to expand the city’s homestead tax exemption this year, but that effort failed.

“Those homestead exemptions would’ve essentially wiped out city taxes for anyone over 65 in the city of Decatur whose home value was $250,000 or less and even if your home is more than that it would’ve made a tremendous reduction in your taxes,” Baskett said. “We had worked hard on it and it was our attempt to deal with this issue.”

The city also provides options for seniors to make partial payments on their taxes Assistant City Manager Andrea Arnold said.

“We ask you come to someone in the tax office and speak with any of the revenue staff and we’ll set up a payment plan and at that point you agree to make smaller payments,” she said.  “It allows you to go past the due date.”

Wilson said she would be paying her tax bill late this year, because she will not be able to afford to pay it at once.

“I’m a late payer of my taxes because I have to find the resources because $200 plus extra was not in my budget,” she said.

About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of

View all posts by Dan Whisenhunt

  • Andrew

    Elizabeth Wilson: Getting it done then, getting it done now. She’s great, and I think she’s opening up the door to a much more relevant conversation. It’s not so much, at least by my observation, about the total taxes necessary to maintain our level of services and schools (which many people seem very pleased with). It’s about how that burden gets allocated and carried by the community. Are people willing to shoulder more during their prime earning years in exchange for the opportunity to more realistically stay here in town later in life? This will be interesting.

  • Bill Jones

    I’d be in favor of a reduction, but there should be a payback to the taxpayers when the property is sold. Perhaps they should value the property before a freeze and then defer the taxes until it is eventually sold. It is not fair for residents or their eventual descendants to reap the benefits of rapid price escalation when they are paying little or no taxes to enjoy that increase.

  • Ed Jacobson

    Bill’s comment is spot on. [transparency alert: I would benefit from a reduction for seniors.) It’s appropriate to make taxes affordable to seniors, but the shortfall should be paid when a property is sold and the appreciated value is recognized and enjoyed, either by the senior or by his/her heirs.

  • Elizabeth McAlister

    It goes beyond just paying the taxes. I’m 62, and many of my same aged friends are considering, or have moved over the border and into Dekalb to reduce the tax hit. Their homes will be snatched up (and probably super-sized!) by outsiders looking to get into the school system we worked so hard to build. I think if people were to investigate, they would see there is substantial “silver” flight from our city already.

  • Rabbit47

    My wife & I have enjoyed our nearly 10 years in Decatur. We have paid the high school taxes while not burdening the system with any children. But we will be gone by the Fall. We are not sure where we will land yet but wherever it is, the taxes will be lower.

  • Hans

    There are mechanisms to help mitigate the impact of rapid increases without eliminating all taxes. Homestead exemptions for individuals on fixed income that scale with property values, for example. It doesn’t eliminate all taxes, and it doesn’t eliminate increases in taxes. It significantly softens the blow of years when the increases can exceed 50% (like this year). This is not the last year we’ll have this conversation. It certainly fuels the need to diversify the city’s revenue base to include more commercial taxes (through annexation, for example)…right now Decatur disproportionately depends on residents for the bulk of revenues

Receive the Daily Email DIgest

* = required field