School Board Chair Daniel Bell said he liked data, as he welcomed the public on April 17th to a forum looking at the economics/trends involving the senior tax exemption issue.
Bell’s fondness for data, including, statistics, projections, graphs and demographic studies became evident as he presented a lengthy and detailed breakdown of the trends shaping north Georgia and how that could affect school finances. Bell began by noting that the school board, all five were present, had agreed prior to the meeting to waive their meeting pay and he had paid for the room out of his pocket to avoid any political impropriety.
The fairly large crowd included many school system employees. Several speakers thanked Bell for his work on collecting and examining the wide array of information gleaned from public reports online, presented that night in a 73-slide PowerPoint display (available at pickensprogress.com, look for this story).
Bell began by asking the crowd to consider what is a “meaningful exemption?” The term meaningful exemption is being used by the Seniors for Change group seeking to cut the amount of property taxes senior citizens pay to support the schools.
Bell said early on, he had shown some resistance to supporting any quick answer to the exemption question as he had a sworn duty to act in the best interest of the schools on many issues and didn’t want to get sidetracked on a single contentious issue—at least until he had time to do his own research.
Bell said he is pleased with how the process unfolded as voters will have a chance to voice support for an official study commission on the issue in the upcoming primary election. This process will prove better than jumping on an immediate plan as more information has been gathered.
Bell then took the audience through the slides on school funding and population trends projected for Pickens County.
The slides show that Pickens is 21st in the state (out of 192 systems) in terms of “local fair share,” meaning that some of the state funding that should come to Pickens County is spread to other less prosperous counties. Bell said, “North Georgia property tax wealth per student is obviously pretty high.” He said this is important as the argument put forth that the state would help make up shortfalls if a senior exemption is increased is simply not true.
In data drawn from numerous sources, Bell showed projections indicating that Georgia will see a dramatic rise in senior citizens moving here and this trend will be more pronounced in the mountain areas of the state.
Georgia is projected to see a 56 percent increase in citizens 65 years old and older. Where will the seniors want to live? he asked the crowd. The mountains, of course, is the answer for most.
One slide showed that in Pickens County from 2016 to 2030, the percentage of residents here over aged 65 will rise 46 percent, while those in age ranges 45-64 and 0-24 both fall slightly; 24-64 year olds will hold steady.
Bell said that baby boomers are one of the largest generations in American history and they are about to be the largest number of senior citizens we’ve ever seen.
“Think about what this means for property taxes and schools, if you have senior property tax exemptions,” he said.
Bell also addressed a key point in the Seniors for Change proposal that they want to see the current exemption be changed from a total (gross) income of $25,000 per household to a net income of $40,000 (not including Social Security and pension plans).
Bell said people need to realize that a $40,000 net income translates to a gross income of $55,286, which is above the average incomes of some areas of the county (see related graphic).
Bell closed by saying that he is a conservative who hates taxes as much as the next person, but he mainly complains when he sees tax dollars misspent. “I am a conservative but I wouldn’t want kids using encyclopedias at home because we wouldn’t upgrade (technology at the schools),” he said.