Catoosa County voters to decide on new tax exemption for elderly

Catoosa County voters to decide on new tax exemption for elderly

November 15th, 2018 by Tyler Jett in Breaking News

Denia Reese, Superintendent for Catoosa County Schools, announces a homestead tax exemption on property taxes for seniors in Catoosa County Thursday at the Catoosa County Board of Education. Standing from left are, Catoosa Commissioner Jeff Long, Catoosa County Commission Chairman Steven Henry, Reese and Catoosa County Schools Board Chairman Don Dycus.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

RINGGOLD, Ga. — Property tax bills may go down slightly for some Catoosa County residents in a couple of years.

The county's board of education announced at a news conference Thursday afternoon that it will support a referendum to create a property tax exemption for some residents 65 and older. That is on top of a total exemption on school taxes for residents older than 75.

Superintendent for Catoosa County Schools Denia Reese, at the podium, announces a homestead tax exemption on property taxes for seniors in Catoosa County Thursday at the Catoosa County Board of Education. Reese is surrounded by school board members and county commissioners during her announcement. From left are, Ray Johnson, Jim Cutler, Bobby Winters, Jeff Long, Steven Henry, Reese, Don Dycus, Susan Gibson and Jack Sims.

Superintendent for Catoosa County Schools Denia Reese, at...

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

The new break would apply only to people who earn less than $30,000 a year. The assessed value of their property will decrease by $40,000.

"Some of our elderly residents are on a fixed income and have lots of expenses — medical bills, prescriptions, utility bills," Superintendent Denia Reese said. "When a spouse passes away, there's even more pressure to make ends meet."

State legislators will write a local act in Atlanta this upcoming session, which begins in January. If approved by the Legislature, Catoosa County residents will vote on a referendum in November 2019. The break would take effect in 2020.

It's hard to estimate the precise impact of the proposed exemption, because home values and the tax rate change. But Catoosa County Schools Director of Finance Blake Stansell estimates that the change would take about $670,000 off the rolls. That would be about 2.4 percent of the $27.8 million in 2018 property tax revenue.

Over the last five years, the district's property tax revenue has been relatively flat. But board Chairman Don Dycus said they can afford the tax cut because they are receiving more money from the state through the Quality Basic Education formula, which funds schools based on the number of students, with more funding for certain categories of students.

The formula dictates how much each district is supposed to receive from the state. But from 2002 until this year, the legislature did not fund the districts at the full rate.

"The school system has not been able to even consider an action like that because our budgets have been so reduced for so many years," Dycus said.

This summer, the board adopted a $108.1 million general fund budget, a 6 percent increase over last year. A big slice of that budget came from the increased funding from state and federal governments. The district received about $74.7 million, an 8.1 percent bump over the fiscal year 2018 budget.

The new tax break is in addition to a number of other exemptions that exist, already mandated by the state or local elected officials. The property of every homeowner in the state already is assessed at 40 percent of its fair market value because of a standard exemption, meaning a home valued at $100,000 is taxed at $40,000. On top of that, another exemption reduces the value by another $2,000, knocking that example assessment down to $38,000.

The state also offers a tax break for residents 62 and older. With your household income at $10,000 or greater, the state drops the assessed value of your home by an additional $2,000. If you don't have that much income, the state drops the assessed value by $10,000.

By the numbers

Catoosa County Schools general fund budgets (percent increases over prior year):
2019: $108.1 million (6 percent)
2018: $101.9 million (5.2 percent)
2017: $96.8 million (3.3 percent)
2016: $93.7 million (1.8 percent)
2015: $92 million

State and federal funding for Catoosa County Schools (percent increases over prior year):
2019: $74.7 million (5.6 percent)
2018: $70.5 million (8.1 percent)
2017: $65.2 million (6.9 percent)
2016: $60.7 million (2.2 percent)
2015: $58.5 million

Locally, Catoosa County already completely exempts school taxes once a resident is at least 75 years old.

Other counties have their own exemptions for school taxes.

In Walker County, an exemption reduces property taxes by $50,000 on your home and up to 5 acres of land when you turn 70. When you turn 75, the property taxes on your home and 5 acres are completely exempt, assuming your income from work is $15,000 or less a year. (Tax Commissioner Carolyn Walker said this exemption does not apply in Chickamauga, which has its own city school system.)

In Dade County, an exemption completely eliminates school taxes on your home and 5 acres of land once you reach 65 years old.

In Gordon County, the school tax exemption reduces the value of your home by $40,000 once you reach 65 years old. It reduces the value by $100,000 once you reach 70 years old.

In Chattooga County, residents get an extra $40,000 exemption on school taxes, assuming their income is less than $20,000. Trion City Schools, which is located inside the county, adopted the same exemption.

As of this semester, Catoosa County Schools educates about 10,700 students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. The board of education adopted a $105 million general fund budget this summer, which included about $27.8 million in local property tax revenue.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.