Leaders in a drive to exempt senior citizens from the school-funding portion of Bulloch County’s property tax aren’t dropping the issue but say they want an answer from the Board of Education.
Superintendent of Schools Charles Wilson, at the BOE’s regular meeting Sept. 12, asked board members to be ready to tell him where they stand on the exemption request during this Thursday’s 6:30 p.m. “work session.” The second regular meeting of the month, it includes a time for board members to discuss several topics with the public listening, but with no scheduled time for further comments from the public.
Only the first regularly scheduled BOE meeting each month includes “public participation,” and the tax exemption has been a topic at the last two opportunities. At least four representatives of the pro-exemption seniors spoke to the board Aug. 8, when more than twice as many people spoke against an age-based exemption. However, pro-exemption leaders objected to the way that ratio came about, and two – Kay Anderson and William Emley – spoke again Sept. 12.
“We want them to tell us yes or no, maybe, whatever,” Anderson said after the meeting. “We want an answer.”
Speaking to the board, Emley said it is a fact that all Bulloch County property owners, including those who are not parents or guardians of children in school “have the responsibility of providing financial support … for children’s education.”
But that includes about 1,400 senior citizens who are now retired, often with “drastically reduced fixed income” but still expected to pay, he continued.
“To me that seems to be unfair,” Emley said. “It is a fact that nearly 100 counties in Georgia have some type of age-based school tax exemption. Some of them include 100 percent school tax exemption to their senior citizens who are retired and on fixed income.”
Identifying himself as one of the Bulloch County Senior Citizens’ appointed representatives,” he suggested that the group was not prescribing details of an exemption, but asking the board to consider the question of fairness.
“The group is not asking for what the mechanics of the proposal, tax exemption, is,” Emley said. “The group is asking that the school board look into is it fair, is it right that somebody is on a fixed income, no longer a working income, still having to pay school taxes, which they do not have a child in the system.”
Anderson, who spoke after Emley, said that, as an owner of rental housing, she pays the property tax for operating the schools, while her tenants who have children do not.
“Most of the families and children that rent my houses trash my house, leave in the middle of the night, and I get to pay the taxes, the insurance and do the renovations,” Anderson said. “I help send these children to school. The renters pay nothing.”
This claim, when voiced before by people seeking exemptions, has been countered by others who observe that renters share in property taxes by paying their rent, which landlords use to pay the tax as well as other expenses.
After telling about a 100-year-old, blind retired teacher living on her husband’s Social Security and “her meager retirement” and still paying the tax, Anderson asked if this was fair.
“We would ask you to consider helping the senior citizens with this tax problem, and you do know that the sales tax is the only fair tax,” she said.
Sales taxes maxed
Actually, Bulloch County has a larger share of sales tax going to its schools now than most Georgia counties. With both the regular Local Option Sales Tax dedicated to the school system and an Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, everyone who buys items at retail here pays 2 cents on each dollar spent to the Bulloch County Schools.
At the previous meeting Aug. 8, another member of the seniors group, Carolyn Akins, presented a request for “100 percent relief from the Bulloch County property school tax levy at age 65, without income limitations.” But group members also suggested that this could be restricted to a home the taxpayer lives in, with a limited attached acreage.
Wilson did not cite any specific proposal but asked board members for input.
“It would be good for us to decide which way we want to go on this so everybody will know where we stand on it, and if I could ask each of you to be prepared to provide feedback at the work session,” he told them. “We’ll take about 15 to 20 minutes at that meeting.”
So “board member input” on the exemption is one of three work session topics on Thursday’s agenda.
If the board proposed an exemption, the proposal would go to the state Legislature as county-specific legislation and return to be decided by voters in a referendum.
In an Aug. 8 story the Statesboro Herald noted that of 19 citizens who spoke during the Aug. 8 meeting, Wilson counted five as speaking in favor and 14 as speaking “at some level or another … against blanket exemptions.”
But as also noted at the time, leaders of the pro-exemption group had planned to select just three or four speakers and publicly said so. The group’s own organizational meeting in July had attracted about 80 people.
“The superintendent asked us to bring four people,” Anderson told the Herald after the more recent meeting.
“We could have brought a hundred but we were told to bring three of four,” Akins said.
Emley had already contacted the reporter to object to the way the numbers of speakers were reported.
When interviewed this week, Wilson acknowledged that he had asked the group to select representatives and then had not known how many would show up in opposition.
“That was unfair on my part to compare those numbers, because the senior citizens group respected what I asked, to be succinct and deliberate with a few people, and I had no idea about the other side of the equation,” he said.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.