An opinion article recently printed was full of misleading information. The author of the column seems to believe that the senior citizens property tax relief items on the ballot would be detrimental to the school system. Her information is incorrect, as I will explain.
All homestead exemptions create a tax shift from those who apply and qualify for the various exemptions to those who do not. No matter what you may have heard or read, a tax shift does not cause any taxing body to lose tax revenue.
Taxing bodies (cities, counties and school systems) set a millage rate to cover the budget they also set.
Homestead exemptions make changes in where those tax dollars come from.
Tax on parcels without the exemption goes up to make up for the lower tax on parcels with the exemption. The budgeted tax dollars come in regardless of homestead exemptions. All the various homestead exemption programs combined cause a much smaller shift in total tax dollars than does the Conservation Use Covenant program.
Since I am very familiar with Lumpkin County, I will use it as an example.
Lumpkin County has a total of 116,734 taxable acres of which 49,605 (42 percent) qualified for Conservation Use Covenant tax exemptions.
Conservation Use Covenant land pays approximately 10 percent of the ad valorem property taxes owed on the land. The remaining 90 percent gets shifted to the rest of us who don’t qualify for the program.
An important thing to note about Conservation Use Covenant land is that ‘chickens don’t go to school and cows don’t drive cars on our roads.’ These properties use less government services.
There are three referendums for senior ad valorem property tax relief on the November ballot for Dawson County voters. Two of them relate to age 65+ for county and schools. The third one relates to age 70+ for schools.
The owners of parcels in Dawson County qualifying for the 65+ Senior Homestead Exemption program would pay full taxes on any assessed value over $65,000 for county and school system ad valorem property taxes.
Further, this exemption has an income restriction of $50,000. For those 70 and over the exemption would be $120,000 of assessed value for school ad valorem property taxes with no income restriction. Additionally, full taxes are paid on all acreage over the five contiguous acres allowed for homestead.
The author of the column said she has been out of public school teaching at least eight years and during that time “Sonny Perdue and his Republican state legislature have cut $4 billion from the education budget.”
As a member of the House Appropriations Committee (K-12) and the House Higher Education Committee, let me tell you about those eight years and the difference we have made in education.
• Raised the graduation rate by 10 percent in eight years to 73 percent.
• Implemented a more rigorous curriculum in every grade. Independent education experts conclude Georgia’s curriculum is the strongest in the southeast.
• Funded teacher salaries at the highest level among 14 southeastern states to attract the best educators for our children. When cost-of-living is accounted for, Georgia’s average teacher salaries rank first in the nation.
• Increased pay for newly certified math and science teachers to respond to a critical shortage of these teachers across the state.
• Established benchmarks for third, fifth and eighth grades requiring proficiency in reading and math.
Due to a lack of accountability in previous years, some students reached high school unable to read. Republican legislators put an end to it.
• Put in place end-of-course tests for eight high school core subjects. These tests constitute 15 percent of students’ grades for those courses. Includes two math, two English, two social studies and two science tests.
• Published all school and district level student test scores on an easy-to-use Web page, thus creating transparency for parents, taxpayers and education stakeholders.
• Narrowed the academic achievement gap for minority students. Minority students in Georgia are outperforming their national peers on almost all measures, including NAEP, SAT, ACT and Advanced Placement courses.
• Targeted state-level efforts on failing schools. They must improve or change how they do business. Of the 533 schools on the Needs Improvement list in 2003, only 33 of those schools remain on the list.
• Created state scholarships for children with special needs that can be used at a private school that meets a child’s unique needs.
The claim of a $4 billion cut is not accurate. You can’t cut something you don’t have. The budget has not only grown every year, we maintained education as top budget priority throughout the national recession.
We gave local school systems an unprecedented amount of flexibility to spend state funds during the recession to meet students’ needs. We made K-12 education funding the greatest percentage of the state budget in modern history, reflecting that education is our top priority.
Based on the above and our experience in Lumpkin County, I encourage Dawson County voters to vote for the three Senior Citizen Homestead Exemption referendums.
Rep. Amos Amersson can be reached at 689 N. Chestatee Street, Dahlonega, GA 30533; (706) 864-6589; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Or contact Gerald Lewy at (706) 344-7788.