Will se­nior tax ex­emp­tion hurt schools?

What­ley: BOE will work to make nec­es­sary ad­just­ments

The Covington News - - Local news - By Jenny Thompson

Tues­day night an over­whelm­ing 87 per­cent of New­ton County’s vot­ers chose to give se­nior cit­i­zens an in­creased dou­ble home­stead ex­emp­tion on their school prop­erty taxes.

Vot­ers ap­proved in­creas­ing the ex­emp­tion from $ 20,000 to $ 30,000 and the in­come cap for el­i­gi­bil­ity from $ 15,000 to $ 25,000 an­nual ad­justed gross in­come.

“ I think 87 per­cent is just in­cred­i­ble,” said Frank Davis, Ox­ford City Coun­cil mem­ber and founder of New­ton Cit­i­zens for Tax Re­lief. “ I think the peo­ple are for it, and I’m just thank­ful the school board gave us the op­por­tu­nity to vote on it.”

New­ton County Schools Su­per­in­ten­dent Steve What­ley said tax rev­enue lost from newly qual­i­fied se­niors is es­ti­mated at $ 550,000 or 1.1 per­cent of the $ 49,915,614 es­ti­mated ad val­orem taxes for school main­te­nance and op­er­a­tions in the cur­rent bud­get.

“ We ex­pected a very high per­cent­age of vot­ers would be in fa­vor of the ref­er­en­dum,” What­ley said.

Even though the pas­sage of the ref­er­en­dum was ex­pected by the New­ton County Board of Ed­uca- tion, What­ley said it would be pre­ma­ture to spec­u­late how the short­fall would be ad­dressed in the 2009 bud­get.

He added the board will work dili­gently to de­ter­mine how to make nec­es­sary ad­just­ments ap­pro­pri­ately.

New­ton County Schools also have ex­pe­ri­enced de­clin­ing col­lec­tions of sales tax rev­enue as well as fund­ing de­creases from the state.

“ Since 2003, state aus­ter­ity re­duc­tions have re­sulted in a loss of slightly more than $ 11.38 mil­lion to New­ton County Schools,” What­ley said.

The New­ton County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers also ap­proved the pro­posal of a county dou­ble home­stead tax ex­emp­tion sim­i­lar to the school tax ex­emp­tion Tues­day night.

Davis said a sim­i­lar county ex­emp­tion would not save as much money on an­nual prop­erty taxes since the county’s mil­lage rate is 9.73 and the school’s mil­lage rate is 19.21.

“ So, it wouldn’t be quite as much on the county side,” Davis said, “ but the se­niors ap­pre­ci­ate any mea­sure that al­lows them to save a lit­tle money.”

Davis ex­pects the county ref­er­en­dum on the bal­lot in July or Novem­ber.

As an Ox­ford City Coun­cil mem­ber, Davis said he is ac­tively work­ing to en­sure a se­nior home­stead ex­emp­tion from city of Ox­ford prop­erty taxes.

He said an elec­tion on the is­sue could not be sched­uled un­til 2009 as city elec­tions can­not co­in­cide with county elec­tions in 2008.

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