Dear Decaturish – Vote ‘No’ on Decatur schools homestead tax exemption

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt October 3, 2016
The Active Adult classes at the Decatur Recreation Center. Photo from Be Active Decatur

The Active Adult classes at the Decatur Recreation Center. Photo from Be Active Decatur

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Dear Decaturish,

On my door handle was a glossy flyer urging folks to vote for all five proposed tax breaks on the ballot. I hope you vote against the fifth one (at least, it is the fifth one as it appears on the sample ballot provided by the DeKalb County Voter Registrar). Here is the language that will appear on the ballot:

City of Decatur Homestead Exemption Senate Bill 343, Act Number 386:

Shall the Act be approved which provides a homestead exemption from City of Decatur independent school district ad valorem taxes for educational purposes for five years in the full amount of the assessed value of the homestead for residents of that school district who are 65 years of age or older?”

This exempts THE FULL AMOUNT of the assessed value from school taxes for anyone over 65. I urge you to vote NO on this proposal for the following reasons:

1. It is reverse income targeted, because a homeowner with a $1,000,000 home gets much more relief than a homeowner with a $250,000 home.

2. It is unfair, rewarding an elderly couple who just moved here exactly the same as an elderly couple that has been here for 30 years, supporting our schools through their property taxes all that time.

3. It dilutes relief away from where it is most needed. The couple earning $500,000 per year who can still afford the taxes gets the same break as the couple living on Social Security. If we targeted the relief to families with, say, income below $50,000, we could provide much more relief.

4. We have no idea how much this will cost. No idea.

5. It will lead to cuts in services for our teachers and children, or higher taxes on younger families. Any effect the proposal might have of reducing school expenses by causing more elderly folks to stay (thereby helping to reduce the number of students) will be a long term effect. In contrast, the lost revenue will be immediate and will have to be addressed with more taxes or cuts.

6. Think about the end game: when is the last time you saw a big tax break like this taken away? Do not fantasize that we can eliminate this at the end of five years. If history is any indication, it is very difficult to eliminate this kind of break. So, we will be stuck with it in all likelihood.

7. There is no careful evidence that it will promote “age diversity.” Property taxes may be important for some older couples, but that is just anecdotal and there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that factors other than property taxes – desire to have a smaller house to manage, need to have a house with fewer steps, desire to live closer to adult children – cause older couples to move. We are throwing away money and it may not even move the “age diversity” needle.

Having seniors age in place without the pressure of growing property taxes is a great goal. I would also love to have fewer students per class, more pay for teachers, more support for teachers taking graduate classes, better pay for our police officers, and more parking at the high school. (For those of you who do not know, parking is so bad there that faculty is having to park at Agnes Scott and walk over. At the high school curriculum meeting the other night, there simply was not room anywhere for the cars and, as a result, many cars were ticketed for parking in illegal spots.)

The question is, or should be, with each of these, how much is it going to cost and can we afford it? There is absolutely no evidence about how much this incredible tax break is going to cost. It is either going to have to be made up in reduced services for our students and teachers, or higher taxes on the rest of us. Maybe that is ok, but we have the right to know how much that is going to cost and whether we can afford it. Having a former leader parade in front of our city commission or school board a bunch of wonderful folks who are struggling with their property taxes is not wrong, but it cannot be the sole basis on which we enact such sweeping, costly laws. (Of course, as noted above, this proposal actually does not provide targeted relief to this group, anyway.) Careful analysis, not anecdotal evidence, no matter how sympathetic, is what should underpin these kinds of proposed changes.

For those who are over 65, I ask how you would vote if this involved any other group? I suspect you would cast a far more skeptical eye on such an untested, open-ended and potentially expensive proposal. And rightly so. As hard as it is, I ask that you bring that same seasoned critical eye to this proposal.

Our legislators can easily provide us with a better targeted alternative where we can provide relief to those most in need and we can better gauge the costs involved. They need to do so next legislative session.

Vote NO on the 5th proposal for Decatur, Senate Bill 343, Act Number 386.

-Tom Stubbs

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About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of Decaturish.com. https://www.linkedin.com/in/danwhisenhunt

View all posts by Dan Whisenhunt

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