Tax breaks for seniors, Callaway Building on Decatur Commission agenda

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt September 21, 2015
Decatur City Hall

Decatur City Hall

The Decatur City Commission meets on Sept. 21 and will consider granting a waiver of certain fees for seniors age 70 and over.

In addition, the chairman of the School Board plans to speak to commissioners about expanding homestead tax exemptions for seniors 65 and older. Commissioners will also take another look at plans for the Callaway Building after postponing approval of some variances requested by the developer.

According to the Sept. 21 agenda, commissioners will consider exempting seniors from sanitation fees and storm water utility fees.

“Currently the solid waste fee is $240 per unit and the storm water fee is $75 per unit,” the memo attached to the City Commission agenda says. “If the City Commission wanted to provide a $315 credit for payment of both fees to resident homeowners who qualified for the 70 years of age and older homestead exemption, the total cost would be approximately $170,000. If the waiver was continued for the first installment payment due June 1, 2016 there would be another $170,000 cost, for a total cost of $340,000 for the current fiscal year. If continued in future fiscal years there would only be one payment to the Enterprise Funds.  It is estimated that the annual cost to the General Fund in five years would be approximately $230,000 based on the number of potential future exemptions and possible fee increases.”

City Staff is recommending granting the waiver, for the following reasons:

– Data already exists to define the number of households that would be eligible based on the age 70 homestead exemption.

– Persons who qualify have already provided documentation to the City so no additional information would be needed to apply a fee waiver, therefore no additional application would be required from residents.

– Fees are set by the City Commission, so the waiver could be implemented with the second installment billing in October, 2015.

– Combined with the millage rate reductions already approved by the City Commission and Board of Education, homeowners whose property values increased $40,000 or less should see no increase in the 2015 tax billing over the total billed in 2014.

– The fee waiver would address the primary homeowner group targeted for tax relief.  To the extent these taxpayers remain in their homes, this waiver would benefit the overall community by providing neighborhood stability that supports the City’s lifelong community goal.

Decatur had sought to expand homestead exemptions for seniors, but that plan died in this year’s legislative session. School Board Chairman Garrett Goebel is planning to speak to commissioners about the board’s desire to expand homestead exemptions for school taxes.

Currently, residents age 80 and older do not have to pay the school tax.  The school board would like to see the age lowered to 65. The talk about tax rates comes as Decatur voters are being asked to consider allowing the school system to borrow $75 million for construction projects. That could result in taxes going up as much as 8 percent to pay off the debt. Decaturish recently conducted an informal poll that showed respondents were divided on the subject of whether to approve the bond.

In other matters, commissioners will reconsider Cousins Properties plans for developing the Callaway Building at 120 West Trinity Place. Last month, commissioners balked at approving variances for the project, citing too much residential and not enough commercial spaces in the plans. City Commission candidate John Ridley has called for ending that contract and using the property for the city’s schools, but commissioners have shown no indication that they’re reconsidering a commercial use for the Callaway Building.

The city has an agreement with Cousins Properties to redevelop the 5.25 acre site. The city purchased the property from DeKalb County using $5.12 million borrowed by issuing bonds. Plans for the building go back to at least 2011.

The City Commission meeting begins with a work session at 6 p.m. and the regular meeting starts at 7:30 p.m. The meetings are held at City Hall, located at 509 North McDonough Street. All meetings are open to the public.

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  • Chris Billingsley

    Thanks Dan. I do not believe there will be any tax relief for seniors or anyone else in Decatur in the near future. This proposal is not a tax reduction but a tax shift, from a small group of elderly Decatur residents to everyone else. Not only will the vast majority of Decatur taxpayers see a increase in their property tax with this proposal, but they will also pay for the bond referendum, a double blast of the tax shotgun sure to drive away those who do not have kids in the city schools. Residents who are 45 to 65 years old will pay a heavy price. But maybe that’s what the city wants, to drive out the old and entice the young with goodies like bike paths, cemetery parties, smart growth and the all-powerful worship at the Church of Diversity (Sorry. Went off the deep end just a little too much).
    This is a smokescreen designed to improve the chances of the bond referendum. What the city needs in my opinion is either more revenue from expansion (not likely) or spending reductions in every aspect of government except police. The possibility of this happening is the same as the impeachment of Barack Obama, a snowball’s chance in hell, both in Decatur and Washington, D.C. But I am ever hopeful for change.
    Yours Truly,
    Chris Billlingsley, BKA/AKA “Progressive B”

  • Walter Winn

    Yeah, you know what? A school is the best use for the Callaway Property. There will be TWO NO votes in my household for the $75M referendum unless and until I know for sure it will be used for that purpose. I might not live to be eighty, so I want my TAX RELIEF now so I may enjoy it.

  • YourTurn

    No blue hair tax shift. I paid for your kids school. Now you can pay for mine.
    Increase the revenue. Cutting services and livability initiatives (like bike paths) is a terrible idea. Livability is what makes Decatur the best city in Georgia.

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