Bulloch County taxpayers seeking a local exemption for senior citizens from the portion of property tax that funds the public schools will meet from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday in the community building at Luetta Moore Park.
Leaders in the effort say Monday’s gathering will be an organizational meeting for their group. They also plan to decide details of the exemption request as they prepare to address the Bulloch County Board of Education, probably at its Thursday, Aug. 8, regular session.
“There are counties in Georgia that do have a sunset on public education’s part of the ad valorem tax, so we’re saying we’ve got a rather prosperous county, and forward-looking, so why can’t we join them?” said Roger Branch, Ph.D.
Now 84, the retired professor and former chair of Georgia Southern University’s sociology and anthropology department is one of the organizers of the tax exemption effort. Several people active in the effort are retired educators. One of their arguments for an exemption is that they have already paid their share.
Branch notes that he has been a homeowner in Bulloch County since 1970.
“I’ve paid tax all 49 years, but there are some in the group who have paid a lot longer,” he said. “One woman said she’s paid for 70 years.”
Branch has one great-grandchild in school here now, “but of course she has parents and grandparents to help carry the burden,” he said.
The group spoke to the Bulloch County Board of Commissioners on June 18, during a meeting also attended by state Rep. Jan Tankersley and state Sen. Jack Hill. Commissioners advised the citizens that a request for a school-tax exemption would need to begin with the Board of Education. If sent forward from there, it would still require county-specific legislation passed by the Georgia General Assembly and then approval from local voters.
The idea has been brought up in previous years, but increases in property assessments, which without a millage rollback would result in higher taxes, spurred new interest in 2019.
Carolyn Akins, 77, who taught school a total of 34 years before retiring from a position in the Bulloch County Schools, said the appraised value of her home increased by something like 15 percent.
“My main concern is there are just a lot of senior citizens … and I know for some people it creates a burden,” Akins said. “When we had the meeting with the Bulloch County commissioners, somebody spoke that their mother had to choose between paying taxes and buying food. I mean, some people are living on a very limited senior’s income, and it creates a hardship.”
One thing citizens interested in an exemption might agree on Monday is the age at which a taxpayer would qualify.
“There has been back-and-forth about what the proposal will be, but I think we’re beginning to firm up on about age 70,” Branch said Friday.
The senior citizens interviewed aren’t seeking an exemption on every sort of real estate an older property owner might own. What they are suggesting is a homestead-type exemption, from school tax, for a senior citizen’s primary residence.
Akins said she heard of one county that has an exemption applying to a house and up to five acres of land around it.
“There are people who own a great deal more property, but I would not want to extend that beyond the homestead,” Branch said.
In fact, Georgia has a limited statewide homestead exemption, from property taxes levied for the benefit of a school system, for people age 62 and up who apply and qualify. It exempts $10,000 of the homestead’s assessed value, which is in effect $25,000 of market value, since Georgia assesses homes for taxes at 40 percent of their market-value appraisal.
Only an individual or married couple who makes $10,000 or less in non-retirement income can qualify for the state exemption. However, seniors can qualify with a much higher household income from Social Security, public and private retirement benefits and disability benefits, which are excluded up to a total of $68,664, according to information on the Georgia Department of Revenue website.
These income limits also apply to a $4,000 assessed value, or in other words $10,000 market value, state exemption from all county property tax for people age 65 and older.
For other statewide exemptions, see https://dor.georgia.gov/property-tax-homestead-exemptions.
The interested senior citizens are readying their request for a local exemption as both the county commissioners and the school board appear likely to roll back taxes to offset inflation in property values.
Each year that assessed values rise in this way, the local boards must either roll back their millage rates or, if they wish to keep the added revenue, announce a tax increase and hold three public hearings. The rollback in the county government portion, to be proposed to the commissioners in August, will probably be 0.54 mill, from 12.34 mills currently to 11.8 mills, County Manager Tom Couch said Friday.
When the Board of Education met Thursday evening, Chief Financial Officer Troy Brown suggested a rollback of the school tax portion from 9.427 mills to 9.038 mills, a reduction of 0.389 mill. The county and school system rollbacks together would prevent the tax on a $100,000 home from rising about $37.
Brown also noted that with a property tax rate of 9.038 mills plus Local Option Sales Tax revenue equivalent to 5.344 mills, Bulloch County’s school “effective millage” would be 14.384. The minimum effective millage required for the school system to keep getting a state equalization grant, worth about $4.5 million this year, is 14.0 mills, he said.
The seniors’ exemption request was not mentioned during Thursday’s BOE meeting. But afterward, Superintendent Charles Wilson acknowledged a conversation he had recently with Branch and retired teachers Kay Anderson and Nan Rushing.
“If they would come and have a common voice, I think this board will hear that common voice and then direct me and my staff as to what information they might need,” Wilson said. “That’s what I understand is going to happen based on the information I’ve got.”
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.