Candidates: Senior exemption isn't going away
by Kathryn Dobies and Jon Gillooly
kdobies@mdjonline.com; jgillooly@mdjonline.com
June 20, 2010 12:00 AM | 3258 views | 30 30 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MARIETTA - Cobb school board members and candidates, as well as many of those seeking seats in the General Assembly, say they are not about to end the school property-tax exemption that Cobb seniors older than age 62 enjoy.

The exemption was instituted in the 1970s. But amid unprecedented school district budget shortfalls this year, some residents contend the county can no longer afford the exemption.

But any attempts to change it, including raising the age limit, would have to originate with the school board, said Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers.

"The process is as follows - the School Board would need to pass a resolution asking that a local referendum be held to remove the exemption from school property taxes for seniors. The local delegation would then need to pass it as a local referendum. The governor would be required to sign the referendum and then it would be placed on the ballot," Rogers said. "Cobb voters would ultimately make the decision."

More than 39,000 seniors in Cobb take advantage of the optional exemption, Tax Commissioner Gail Downing has said. Earlier this month, she added a form seniors can fill out if they wish to remove their exemption to her office's website at www.cobb tax.org, though she said that only one senior homeowner has submitted the form since June 4.

School board members

David Banks, of northeast Cobb, and David Morgan, who represents southwest Cobb, said they would not repeal nor increase the age limit for the exemption.

Board Chairwoman Lynnda Crowder-Eagle, who represents northwest Cobb, and Alison Bartlett, who represents south central Cobb, said they would consider making changes to the exemption, but not repealing it outright.

"I will not be in favor of repealing it," Bartlett said. "I am willing to look at it and see if we can tweak it a little ... What I'm willing to do is put it on the discussion table, really understand it, and see if there is a way to tweak it that would not hurt our home sales, and yet increase our revenue."

Bartlett said she has received a lot of suggestions from constituents, such raising the age limit; enacting an income restriction; or requiring a period of residency before a senior can take advantage of the exemption.

A majority of the school board candidates were even more strongly opposed to repealing or revising the exemption.

School board candidates

Southeast Cobb, Post 2

Incumbent Democrat Holli Cash, who is up for re-election this year, said she might be open to modifying the exemption.

"I would favor a resolution to review the current tax and compare it to what other counties are doing," Cash said. "I do think there should be a senior tax exemption of some kind."

Her primary opponent, Democrat Patrick Stafford said he would not repeal the exemption or raise the age limit.

The Republican in the race, Tim Stultz, said the same.

North-central Cobb, Post 4

Kathleen Angelucci, who is one of the two Republicans vying for the seat now held by Dr. John Abraham, said she would not consider repealing it or raising the age limit.

Her opponent, Bill Borden, said, "No, I personally am not in favor of repealing the senior tax exemption."

"However, I do believe the voters should have the option of repealing it, keeping it 'as is' or adjusting the age limit of this tax as they see fit," Borden said.

East Cobb, Post 6

Republicans Jim Snell and Scott Sweeney, who are seeking to succeed Dr. John Crooks, both said they would not be in favor of repealing the exemption or raising the age limit.

Dr. Rick Welkis, the lone Democrat in the race, said he would only be in favor of raising the age limit if it made a significant impact in the district's revenue stream.

"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," Welkis said.

State Senate

The four candidates in Cobb's two contested state Senate primaries agreed they would not increase the age limit on the exemption, or eliminate it outright.

Incumbent Republican Sen. Judson Hill, east Cobb, District 32: "I do not support a tax increase on seniors or anyone else."

Challenger Lynda Coker: "I am not in favor of raising taxes on anyone."

A spokesman for incumbent Republican John Wiles, Kennesaw, District 37, said: "Sen. Wiles doesn't support elimination or change to current law regarding this issue."

Challenger Lindsey Tippins: "I don't support removing or raising the age of the senior exemption."

State House

Republican Rep. Earl Ehrhart, of Powder Springs, a leader in the House who is so far unopposed in his bid for reelection to represent District 36, neither supports doing away with the senior exemption nor raising the age.

"The reasons behind a senior exemption that were there when we passed it are still there today," Ehrhart said.

Cobb has 14 seats in the House, and although all General Assembly seats are up for election in November, only seven of Cobb's representatives have opposition for the July 20 primary.

Of the candidates who face a primary contest and who responded to the Journal by press time, only incumbent Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan, a south Cobb Democrat seeking re-election in District 39, said she was undecided whether to change or end the exemption.

"I like it, but I think that and many other exemptions have to be reviewed. Quite frankly, you're giving too many exemptions as a state - not necessarily the one given to seniors. 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," she said.

Morgan's Democratic challenger, longtime educator Betty Gray, said she would make no changes to the exemption.

"I'm not going to make any recommendations for any tax increases or decreases at this point in time. It is urgent that we take a look at the total tax structure, and it couldn't come at a better time than now as needs are identified and not satisfied," Gray said.

Buddy Simpson, a Republican challenging incumbent Judy Manning to represent the Marietta and north-central Cobb District 32, said he does not favor any changes to the exemption.

"Senior citizens should be exempt from the school tax because they do not have any children attending public schools," Simpson said. "I would not ask seniors to pay a tax for a service they do not use."

In southwest Cobb's District 33, both Democrats in the race - incumbent Don Wix and challenger David Wilkerson - said they would not try to end the exemption, or raise the age limit.

Their fellow Democrat, incumbent Terry Johnson of south-central Cobb's District 37, also said he would make no changes to the exemption.

"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. Other options and sources of revenue should be explored," Johnson said.

In east Cobb's District 41, Calvin Rhodes, who is challenging incumbent Sharon Cooper in the GOP primary, said he would not change or end the exemption.

"Many seniors live on fixed incomes and simply cannot afford more taxes," Rhodes said. Also, "raising the age of the senior exemption would indicate you agree we are spending the almost 18 billion dollar state budget effectively - I don't."

Two other incumbents, Republican Don Parsons, of District 42 in northeast Cobb, and Democrat Sheila Jones, of District 44 in southeast Cobb, both said they would not alter the exemption.

"I will not sign local legislation to remove the exemption. I will not vote to remove the exemption. In 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/her signature on a request to remove it and I doubt that any would be willing to do so today," Parsons said.

"The Cobb School System has been top heavy as long as I have dealt with it, and continues to be top heavy," he said. "I would like for the Cobb 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."

Jones said that instead of changes to the exemption, "I would work to restore state funding to education, which will serve our children and help maintain the exemption for seniors."
Comments
(30)
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fallguyx55
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June 24, 2010
To Taxpayer: Spelling for some does not come easy. Ben Franklin tried but did not succeed in making American English spell the way is sounded. Einstein was one of those who could not spell or even tie his own shoes. I am no Einstein yet do have an above normal IQ. Common sense is another thing that you either have or you do not. Many who are well learned do not have this trait yet spell well. I have learned that the message is far more important then spelling or grammar. The idea accounts for far more then the use of big words and spelling. In business today they use texting to get points or ideas across. In text you use a common sense language. For the word you its U for lost of luck it is lol. Simple but effective. If I where to be writing a paper on oil and salt water I would proofread it have it proof read by someone else and then submit the paper. Blogs are just another form of texting and for Gen. discussion. Thank you for agreeing on the other parts of my blog, I will try harder to correct any errors I find but I am sure many will get by.
From Texas
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June 24, 2010
I don’t have kids so I’m due $50,000.00 refund or you can add it to social security payment, social security that’s an oxymoron!! It’s too bad we didn’t have a clue that the economy was slowing as far back as October 2006 maybe the school board could have cut back four years ago.
A Taxpayer
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June 23, 2010
Dear Fallguyx-

Right on! "Collage" IS not for everyone! Some prefer pen-and-ink, some like watercolor, while others greatly prefer acrylics or oils.

Seriously. . .whether it's a blog or not, your message is taken far more seriously when you spell correctly. If the thought is worth writing, then it's worth an appropriate delivery.

fallguyx
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June 22, 2010
To Do the math: $100,000 for 12 yrs of school. Is due to over spending by the school boards? Cut back on wast. In the real world if a business does not make money it cuts back 1st by laying people off or cutting hours 2ND they do not get a raise 3rd no new hires , cut back on benefits make you pay more for insurance. Their are many ways to make the system work. The lotto was supposed to help, yea right. Local option sales tax was supposed to help. School should teach what schools where designed to teach. Reading writing math history science the basics. If you need something else find a way to pay for it without taking more money from the tax payer and seniors. Schools in the U.S are far behind the rest of the developed world due to the neglect of the basics.
HOMER SIMPSON
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June 22, 2010
Buddy Simpson, a Republican challenging incumbent Judy Manning to represent the Marietta and north-central Cobb District 32, said he does not favor any changes to the exemption.

"Senior citizens should be exempt from the school tax because they do not have any children attending public schools," Simpson said. "I would not ask seniors to pay a tax for a service they do not use."

YOU WOULDN'T? LET'S SEE....I'VE NEVER REQUIRED THE SERVICES OF THE POLICE DEPARTMENT, THE FIRE DEPARTMENT, EMR, SHERIFF DEPARTMENT, GBI, DOG CATCHER, CDC, ...

Do the math
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June 22, 2010
Fall guy thinks that paying school taxes for 41 years is enough. He may be right, but a child attending Cobb Schools for 12 years costs taxpayers well over $100,000, with at least $50,000 paid for by local property taxes. Look at your school tax bill. The owner of a very high priced home doesn't pay enough property taxes over 50 years to repay the cost of educating two kids in the system. Fall guy doesn't have a valid argument. If he did, then businesses should argue that they shouldn't pay school taxes either. Gradually raise the exemption age. Let the people currently receiving it continue to receive it, but raise the qualifying age over time. More importantly, STUDY the issue first and forecast what the exemption is actually going to cost in the future if it is not changed, before making any decisions. The new Census is coming out soon. It will be very easy to forecast how many homeowners will be qualifying, what the cost will be and how it will impact the district.
fallguyx
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June 21, 2010
To tax payer; You can afford to retire early if you don't live in the biggest house drive a over priced car etc. I have retired at 55 live in a modest home drive cars with a few years on them. I got over having to have a hot new car every few yrs. It is part of growing up something today's middle aged and ageing have yet learned to do. So grow up and learn to live on what you have. I did well for myself the only help I ever had was a loving wife standing by me and parents who taught me the value of living with less and being happy. Love being able to do what I want when I want. Will be doing a lot of traveling in the near future. Got the cash for an R.V and for world travel if I wish and probably will. Life is good.
fallguyx
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June 21, 2010
To: Spell check. The subject we are speaking of or blogging is tax money and not spelling. Many in our society have problems with spelling many have even got PHDs who can not spell. Though I did do a few years of collage I did not finish. Collage is not for everyone. I retired at 55 make a decent living,have 2 paid up med plans, live in a modest home, Drive a car with a few years on it so I could retire at 55. I have paid my taxes every year. My two kids who went to CCSD one was ADD the other did well. I am proud of both. I paid for many different programs out of my own pocket which I did not have problem with. I bought my 1st home at 22 and have been paying school taxes every sense. Do the math I have been paying school taxes for 33 yrs add 7 more (I will be 62) and that make 41 yrs. School boards are out of control with spending. Like everything else they need to cut back.
Cobb Teacher
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June 21, 2010
None of this matters. Fred and the "Board" are going to do whatever Glover Street (Constantino) tells them. My husband had a 1/2 day job and it was turned into a full-time position to place a "reassignee". This happened at a school where there was not an increase in student population that would validate another 1/2 day position in this area. His wife is doing the same thing with all her "buddies".
lived here 15 years
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June 21, 2010
I recently spoke with a FULTON COUNTY resident who moved here last year to take advantage of the tax break for seniors 62 and older. Their children attended school at Westminster. Should they be allowed to participate in this tax break? I've resided in Cobb County for fifteen years, never had children in the school system, paid taxes here for fifteen years and will likely pay taxes for an additional fifteen years before taking advantage of this tax break. I agree that there should be some stipulations for this tax advantage in Cobb County. Perhaps the law should be "tweaked" to insure that this sort of thing does not happen without some checks and balances.
omgosh
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June 21, 2010
To Here we go again!

"Just to make sure they do not have a child or grandchild living with them that are of school age, or as so many do, send their children off to private school so their is no trail following their address in public school."

Why do people like you always tout your envy with comments like this? The taxpayers are not paying to educate these children! How is this on point? And "as so many do"? So many seniors send their children and grandchildren to private schools? Really?

If your child is educated in public schools, perhaps you should be the first to step up and offer to pay more instead of going after everyone else's money, to which you so clearly think you are entitled.

el paso
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June 21, 2010
The law was originally enacted to aid people of low income and under the theory that most of your work years are behind you. The exemption could be tied to a seniors income, but is unlikely as the Republicans just this session exempted wealthy seniors from paying state income tax. If it is not a way to shift taxes from the wealthy to the middle class, the republicans will not pass it.
Go Away
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June 21, 2010
It is not up to the School Board to decide. The voters decide. That is NOT new news. Get your facts straight. If you don't like it, GO VOTE!
Do the math
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June 21, 2010
Did any of these candidates indicate that they actually KNOW how much the senior exemption costs the school district today, how fast it has been increasing or how much the exemption is going to grow in the future as tens of thousands of more local homeowners age into their 60s and raise the cost exponentially? How important is the senior exemption worth anyway? If it costs $100 million should we keep it as is? $200 million? $500 million? After all, the taxes that seniors don't pay--everyone else pays for them. How much is enough? Doesn't anyone think it is a bit irresponsible for candidates to take a position on keeping the exemption without having a clue as to its current or future cost? I have ZERO confidence in any candidate who wants to run an $800 million operation yet is comfortable spouting off a huge financial issue without knowing anything about the consequences.
Billy Johnson
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June 21, 2010
Seniors vote in record numbers don't they. I knew the politicians would not touch this with a ten foot pole. Goodbye teachers...
anonymous
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June 21, 2010
And flip-flop, there goes Borden! He wouldn't eliminate the exemption but he would put it to the voters.

...say what?

That's politicode for "I don't want to make the senior voters mad at me so I won't say I favor eliminating the exemption, but I would try to get the voters of Cobb County to be the bad guys."

Seriously, for it to make it as far as the ballot, it has to be voted on by the board, so this answer tells us everything about how he'd vote if he were on the board. Duh.

Sounds just like John Kerry's infamous "I voted for it before I voted against it".
anonymous
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June 21, 2010
To Watcher- You are correct that the Cobb School Board wanted to get something passed but it wasn't the first SPLOST. After a bond referendum failed in the 70's the school board wanted the exemption to encourage senior voters to vote for future referendums. The first SPLOST didn't happen till about 1995.
A taxpayer
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June 21, 2010
Raise the exemption to age 65 or 66. Then it would dovetail with the generally-accepted retirement age. Who can afford to retire at age 62 anymore?
Watcher...
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June 20, 2010
The Politicians WILL NOT touch this exemption.

If the CCSD Baord pushes this issue, the Seniors, their Children and their Grand Children will vote it down and throw the Pols out!

If my memory serves me correctly, when the exemption became law, the School Board, at that time, needed the support from Seniors to get something passed/started. It may have been the 1st splost.

If I am not correct, please refresh my memory.
mk- real ideas
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June 20, 2010
Leave seniors alone! (We're all gonna get there someday & the break will be a nice change!!). How 'bout DOUBLE the tax on any rental house &/or apartments, that are renting to ILLEGALS! And this includes the Smyrna Commons on Ward Street,.... owned & managed by the city of Smyrna!
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