Get­ting what you pay

Why then, as se­niors, should we tell the county we will con­tinue to en­joy its ser­vices without pay­ing our share for them be­cause we have turned 65?

The Covington News - - Opinion -

The gov­er­nor and Ge­or­gia Leg­is­la­ture are scram­bling to bal­ance the bud­get, looking at a po­ten­tial $1.6 to $2 bil­lion deficit. The state is re­quired legally to bal­ance its bud­get and can only do so by cut­ting ser­vices or by tak­ing out loans to cover the deficit. The amount that can’t be cut from the bud­get will come from the pock­ets of Ge­or­gia tax­pay­ers – you and me.

The same is true for New­ton C o u n t y ’s bud­get. The county gets rev­enue from prop­erty taxes, sales taxes, sale of ser­vices and var­i­ous other fees. The rev­enue sup­ports all county ser­vices -- Sher­iff’s Depart­ment, Fire Depart­ment, li­brary, recre­ation depart­ment, pub­lic works, among oth­ers. All of th­ese ser­vices are nec­es­sary for a de­sir­able qual­ity of life, here or any­where, and all of us will be af­fected if there are cuts in any of th­ese ser­vices. Your safety and the amount of home­owner’s in­sur­ance you pay are de­pen­dant on the qual­ity of the fire depart­ment and sher­iff’s depart­ment ser­vices. We have recre­ation fa­cil­i­ties in this county that are the envy of other towns through­out the coun­try. They are of­ten cho­sen to host var­i­ous tour­na­ments. The li­brary is the most used fa­cil­ity in the county and is build­ing a new branch in the Oak Hill Com­mu­nity. The Pub­lic Works Depart­ment main­tains roads and wa­ter lines for those liv­ing in the county as well as other ser­vices.

But the bot­tom line is you get what you pay for. What, in the above list of ser­vices would you like to cut? And how much? Or would you pre­fer that the county get a loan? Rock­dale County bal­ances its bud­get with loans. New­ton County has his­tor­i­cally bud­geted its monies to match its rev­enue.

If the homestead ref­er­en­dum on the Novem­ber bal­lot passes, county gov­ern­ment must do some­thing to bal­ance the bud­get. Chief Ap­praiser Tommy Knight es­ti­mated that the cur­rent ex­emp­tion to se­nior cit­i­zens costs the county $496,308. The se­nior ci­ti­zen ex­emp­tion ap­plies to se­niors who make less than $15,000. If a home, in un­in­cor­po­rated New­ton County is worth $125,000, it is as­sessed at 40 per­cent of its value, and its as­sess­ment is $50,000. Then se­niors, who make less than $15,000, can take $20,000 from the as­sessed value and only pay taxes on $30,000.

We au­to­mat­i­cally gasp that some­one would be mak­ing less than $15,000. How, in this day and time, can some­one live on that amount of money? But, ac­cord­ing to Tax Com­mis­sioner Bar­bara Din­gler, the $15,000 amount does not re­flect ac­tual in­come. So­cial Se­cu­rity in­come and pen­sions, up to $52,400 dol­lars a year, are not counted as in­come. In other words, if a se­nior ci­ti­zen makes $67,300 a year in pen­sion pay­ments and So­cial Se­cu­rity, only $14,900 of that $67,300 is counted as in­come, and that se­nior ci­ti­zen qual­i­fies for the $20,000 de­duc­tion from the 40 per­cent as­sess­ment.

If the homestead ref­er­en­dum on the Novem­ber bal­lot passes, that same se­nior ci­ti­zen can now make $77,300 and qual­ify for a $30,000 de­duc­tion from the 40 per­cent as­sess­ment of his home.

Knight es­ti­mated that the pas­sage of the ad­di­tional se­nior homestead ex­emp­tion could cost the county a min­i­mum of $310,192 a year. As a new crop of cit­i­zens be­come se­niors each year, the ef­fects of th­ese pos­si­ble new ap­pli­cants could cost the county ad­di­tional ex­emp­tions of an­other $126,490 in rev­enue. In fact it is es­ti­mated the ex­emp­tion would have an im­pact of $1,629,812 in rev­enue for the county.

Yes, other Ge­or­gia coun­ties have passed sim­i­lar ex­emp­tions for se­nior cit­i­zens. But those coun­ties have a broader tax base than New­ton County. Those coun­ties have shop­ping malls, which gen­er­ate more sales taxes, and they have more busi­nesses and of­fice parks. New­ton County is pri­mar­ily a bed­room com­mu­nity with the ma­jor­ity of its rev­enue com­ing from prop­erty taxes.

That fact gets us back to the ques­tion - how do you re­place the lost rev­enue? Or where do you cut ser­vices?

There is no doubt that the coun­try is in an eco­nomic re­ces­sion. Many pro­grams are al­ready cut to bare bones. Por­terdale had to fur­lough a po­lice­man. The li­brary, ac­cord­ing to Di­rec­tor Greg Heid, is only spending money on the ac­qui­si­tion of books as its money from the state has been cut so dras­ti­cally. It is not fea­si­ble that the short­fall can be made up by cut­ting pro­grams.

The ob­vi­ous an­swer is that other cit­i­zens will pay more taxes to make up for the se­nior ex­emp­tions, home­own­ers who are not over 65. Who are th­ese home­own­ers? Gen­er­ally, they are par­ents with chil­dren. House­holds with three or more mem­bers will have to pay more taxes to make up for the tax loss of house­holds with one or two mem­bers.

Does it not make sense that larger house­holds can less af­ford more taxes? Do we, as New­ton Coun­tians, want to be known as a group who pun­ishes fam­i­lies? Or do we want to be known as a county that wel­comes fam­i­lies and of­fers ex­cep­tional recre­ational op­por­tu­ni­ties, parks and safety ameni­ties for fam­i­lies and chil­dren?

Do we want to live in a di­verse com­mu­nity and neigh­bor­hoods, or do we want to live in se­nior ci­ti­zen en­claves, never hear­ing the laugh­ter of chil­dren?

As se­niors, do we tell our churches we will con­tinue to at­tend ser­vices but no longer put money in the col­lec­tion plate be­cause we have turned 65? Do we tell our civic groups we will con­tinue to at­tend meet­ings but no longer pay dues or con­trib­ute to fundrais­ers be­cause we have turned 65? No.

Why then, as se­niors, should we tell the county we will con­tinue to en­joy its ser­vices without pay­ing our share for them be­cause we have turned 65?

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