School Taxes
June 24, 2010 12:00 AM | 1732 views | 10 10 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
SHOULD COBB COUNTY do away with its school property-tax exemption for residents older than age 62? Yes, some people say, citing the bad economy that has had a devastating effect on the county school budget (and those of other systems around the state).

Talk of removing the exemption won't go away. Some want to do away with it entirely, and some merely want to tinker with it - i.e., raising the age at which one becomes eligible for it, enacting an income restriction or requiring residency requirements, for example.

"I would favor a resolution to review the current tax and compare it to what other counties are doing," said big-spending Post 2 school board member Holli Cash of southeast Cobb, who is up for re-election this fall. "(But) I do think there should be a senior tax exemption of some kind."

That's not exactly a ringing endorsement for keeping the tax exemption.

Cash typically has blamed the school system's problems on everybody but the school board and has complained about the legislature's failure to hike taxes during the recession to help local schools. So it comes as no surprise that she would have an open mind to ending or altering the senior tax exemption.

Likewise, Post 4 candidate Bill Borden of northeast Cobb said he is against repealing the exemption, but left himself some wiggle room by saying that voters should have the option of repealing, keeping or adjusting the tax. But he gave no indication of whether he knows the process must originate with the school board.

For the record Cash's opponent, Patrick Stafford, and Borden's opponent, Kathleen Angelucci, favor keeping the exemption as is.

Dr. Rick Welkis, the lone Democrat running for the Post 6 seat in east Cobb, is wide open to the possibility of junking the exemption, thought doing so probably would further doom his candidacy in that already heavily Republican district.

"I would need to see the revenue projections associated with each year above 62 (i.e., 65 vs. 62) in order to make a decision on whether to raise the age," he said.

Neither Republican running for that post, Jim Snell nor Scott Sweeney, favors ending the exemption.

Watch out, taxpayers. If there was ever a question to which it was easy to answer a clear "yes" or "no," it was the one on the questionnaire asking candidates about their willingness to do away with or monkey around with the exemption and thereby raise taxes. And neither Cash, Borden nor Welkis was willing to answer with an unequivocal "no."

State Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan (D-Austell), who's up for re-election and whose husband David Morgan serves on the school board, said she thinks that exemption and others should be reviewed.

"Quite frankly, you're giving too many exemptions as a state - not necessarily the one given to seniors," she said. "In these serious economic times that we're in, the silver lining here is that it's forcing us to look at who gets exemptions and why and do the ends justify the means."


WELL, IN ANSWER to her question, more than 39,000 county residents are taking advantage of that optional tax break. The exemption has been in place for decades, keeps $55.5 million worth of taxes in the pockets of Cobb residents this budget year, rather than in the hands of the profligate school board, and was never an issue when the system was flush with cash.

And if the current school administration and school board had proven themselves good financial stewards when the times were good, there would be a better argument now for ending or altering the exemption.

But instead, the opposite has been the case. Superintendent Fred Sanderson badly mishandled this year's budget crisis, keeping the numbers and alternatives close to his vest for far too long. Thanks to his unpreparedness the system ultimately was forced to lay off approximately 1,000 teachers, with all the heartache that entails - yet inexplicably announced within a matter of weeks that it would begin hiring about half of them back.

And let's not forget the board's determination to keep letting central office staff and principals accrue unpaid vacation days, then pocket lump-sum payments for them when they leave the system. Moreover, like school administrations everywhere, the Cobb system's top-heavy central office on Glover Street has no shortage of overpaid administrators even as class sizes have been expanded as a result of the budget crisis.

As state Rep. Don Parsons (R-northeast Cobb) told the MDJ last week, "I my sixteen years in the legislature, I have heard members of the Cobb school board whine and complain about this exemption, but not one of them has ever put his or her signature on a request to remove it and I doubt that any would be willing to do so today."

"The Cobb school system has been top heavy as long as I have dealt with it, and continues to be top heavy. I would like for the system to show me one thing that their many layers of administration have taught the children of Cobb County. Our teachers are the ones who teach our children."

Added state Rep. Terry Johnson (D-Fair Oaks), "You would be hard-pressed to find legislators that would blatantly attempt to generate more tax revenue on the shoulders of our elderly through elimination of this popular exemption."

And declared District 41 legislative candidate Calvin Rhodes of east Cobb, "Many seniors live on fixed incomes and simply cannot afford more taxes. ... Raising the age of the senior exemption would indicate you agree we are spending the almost $18 billion state budget effectively - I don't."

Nor do many others.


COMBINE this administration's poor stewardship with its credibility problems and it becomes a case of "This is the last bunch you would want to trust with more tax dollars."

And the perhaps the best argument for keeping the senior tax exemption was the adage uttered by candidate Ronald Reagan at a Cobb County campaign rally during his 1980 presidential run: "The American people are not undertaxed. Our government just overspends."

It was true then, and it's even truer now.
Comments-icon Post a Comment
Cobb teacher/parent
June 27, 2010
Every school board, every government institution and probably most, if not all, corporations "waste" money in one way or another. I don't know of any perfectly run government institution. So saying the the CCSD does not run the system with complete efficiency is not by itself a reason not to consider increasing sources of revenue.

Therefore, since class sizes are being increased, teachers are sacrificing with pay cuts, and central office workers, teachers, etc. are being let go, this is a clear sign that more revenue is needed. Is ending the senior tax exemption the answer? Maybe not. However, I believe the voters should at least be allowed to VOTE on a reasonable change. Perhaps we should consider raising the exemption to 65 instead of 62, which I believe is the exemption age in most of the state. Or we could make the exemption income based. Let's look at reasonable ways to increase our revenue in difficult times while still avoiding putting an undue burden on any one group.
June 25, 2010
As a retiree, not only do I live on a fixed income, but what savings I have frugally maintained after a lifetime of work do not earn nearly what they used to. Remember when credit unions paid 12% interest in the 1980s? Well, just try to get even 2% now! And I have some local bank stock, which instead of earning me about $100 per month in dividends, now pays $1.50 per month!! I have no children, but I have paid school taxes for 20 years here in Cobb. Many singles and childless couples who own modest homes have been paying school taxes for years. So don't argue that I am trying to get some kind of free ride by applying for my exemption.
no context
June 24, 2010
$55.5 million is a big number. How much is it as a percentage of total property taxes collected by the CCSD? Who pays for the $55.5 million that Seniors don't pay? What is the number going to be in 3 years, 5 years, 10 years? The focus is on platitudes, ideology, evildoers (the School Board), emotion and pablum. No insights, no facts, no tradeoffs, no implications, no analysis, no understanding. No wasted time "learning" anything here. What else is new.
Come on
June 24, 2010
Please don't quote the AJC article. They asked for number CCSD provided and they moved reported what they got.

There was NO investigation. AJC did not check to see that many of our administrators salaries come out of other buckets - not just the general funds. CCSD just does a better job hiding where money is spent than other districts.

The AJC lived up to its reputation - reporting the easy way!
Grew up in Cobb
June 24, 2010
I agree with OlderFedUp, I was born and raised in Cobb County. My brothers and I went through the Cobb County School system as well as college here. During that time, my parents paid school taxes for us and my brothers and we paid them for our children (who are now grown and ready to have kids). Why should my Dad who is 80 years old and on a fixed income pay school taxes? He and others his age have paid enough. Please leave them alone and look somewhere else for the money.
June 24, 2010
We (the older generation of Cobb County) have paid school taxes for years and the one reason we have remained in Cobb County is this one tax perk. We paid taxes and school dues the entire time our kids were in school plus some. They are grown now with children of their own and paying school taxes. We are to the point we are living on a fixed income and need this tax break. There is a saying I have seen which I feel applies to this "Failure to plan on your part, does not constitute an emergency on mine". I bet you can find plenty of waste in the school system that could be stopped rather than raising taxes or taxing those of us that have paid these taxes for years and in our declining years need this money just to live on. Leave us older folks out of your inability to live and run the school system with funds available.
Alan Faircloth
June 24, 2010
MY PREDICTION - Even though it must originate with the school board, Holli Cash will somehow try to blame the exemption on the legislators......That woman has never taken responsibility for anything that I am aware of.
Thumbs Up
June 24, 2010
I agree somewhat with your article, especially the comment about govt overspending in administration salaries. Cobb pays 18.9 in millage with seniors exempt at age 62. Gwinnett pays 13 in millage w/o having seniors exempt. They also have the largest school system in the state of GA.

It is time that Cobb spends to have an outside company audit and report as to how effectively it should be spending, where cuts should be made and still have the best school system in the state of Georgia. This is one expense I would support. I however feel they will never opt to do this, as it would only make them look like bigger idiots of how they have mismanaged CCSD from the start.
From Texas
June 24, 2010
Yes let’s tax the rich, then everybody can move away further from the metro area, then we have DeKalb County left. A better choice is get the budget down should have started in 2006 with cash reserves on hand, but that’s not the American way. The school board only has its self to blame just like the ongoing attack on the school board, no they earned this and the whole story hasn’t even been told. The paper has actually gone light on the school board they should dig deeper.
Reality Check
June 24, 2010
How can you claim that the District is "top heavy" when it spends well below the metro area average in terms of dollars spent per student on administration? Another newspaper recently compared per student administrative costs for all metro districts and actually praised Cobb for having the lowest per student administrative cost. Also, Cobb ranks dead last in administrator pay among large metro school districts, which in large part accounts for the growing losses of Cobb administrators to other better paying systems. Top heavy? By what objective measure?
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