Dear Editor:

How well our board of county commissioners acts as the people’s representatives to monitor services and expenses should be important to all. 

While a number of us as taxpayers never have and never will make use of our public schools, we all do benefit from other county services: police protection, fire protection, highway maintenance, etc. All of us are consumers of all or most of these services and have a responsibility to contribute. 

However, should taxes to support these services be increased simply based on increased property value assessments? Has the cost of providing county services gone up? Probably! Hundreds of new homes have gone up in our county recently: Do their owners not add to the tax base sufficiently to maintain tax rates at current levels — or are older residents in our county being asked to underwrite the expenses for the services provided to newcomers? As appraisals go up, should not county millage rates go down so that our tax bill will remain the same?

Property appraisals are estimates. Will our homes really sell for the appraised price? If our property were to sell for less than its appraised value, will the county guarantee the full appraisal price for our property or give a refund for overcharging us in taxes? Certainly not!

It is time for a change from the status quo — we need government leaders to hold taxes to a minimum and use the funds entrusted to their oversight wisely. 

But look carefully again at your property tax bill and the line item: School M&O. Our public schools are responsible for over half of our tax burden! They get the lion’s share!  

The Barrow County School System and its employees’ labors have been commended recently by awards and scores recorded by county students and graduates as noted at the October school board meeting. Barrow graduates at UGA had the highest GPA average for students from all Georgia counties enrolled at UGA. What a contrast from the late 1970s when it was reported that numerous high school graduates in our community were unable to read sufficiently to fill out a job application. What a great improvement! We are happy for the children of our community who have benefited from the educational advancements within our community.  

However, with this progress has come increasing financial pain for the taxpayer! Home and property owners in our county are being asked to fund an unfair share of these educational expenses. An amazing 60 percent of my 2019 property taxes are being levied to pay for our public schools — a county service I never have and never will use!

Why this increase? My county commission representative reported that while the county commission approves the annual school budget every June, they are not able to modify the education budget request but only to rubber stamp it. Members of our board of education have pointed out that they have not raised our school taxes, claiming that the millage rate for the School M&O has remained the same (18.5 mills). Their claim may be technically correct but lacks credibility. Since neither our county commissioners nor our school board have taken any direct action to increase our school taxes, the apparent blame falls on our county appraiser and tax assessor’s office that are simply doing their jobs.

However, our school board should be advised annually in estimating anticipated revenues for the upcoming year. This information should be known before setting their annual budget and requesting county commission approval each June. 

Therefore, if our school board members have any knowledge of basic business math, they should well know that if the property values in the county have been increased, then the millage rate for the School M&O portion of the annual property tax should be reduced by the same percentage and if the millage is not proportionately reduced, they are by default "responsible" for our school tax increase.  

Increasing property values are not caused by the taxpayers and provide no financial advantage unless they sell. We should not be punished because buyers have agreed to purchase our neighbors’ homes and properties at inflated values. When people purchase properties, they budget for various costs including taxes at the time of purchase. It is doubtful that the school board members consider whether wages and income for Barrow property owners have proportionately increased to cover the increase in the school M&O that has been generated by increased property tax assessments.   

Our school board should not be using increased property appraisals in our county as an opportunity for windfall profits for our school board to disperse without concern for the cost to the taxpayer. Personally, since 1977 I have paid without complaint Barrow County school taxes for a service that none of my five home-schooled children ever used. Now at age 72, faced with borrowing to pay my 2019 property taxes, I resent being forced to pay for a service that I don’t use and I cannot afford.

Retirees typically live on a fixed income. More than one individual has relayed that our Barrow County Board of Commissioners has previously requested that our board of education approve an exemption for senior citizens from the school tax, but the board of education did not act affirmatively on that request. 

While Walton, Gwinnett and other counties are reported to exempt senior citizens from the education portion of their property tax, a Barrow school official declared that supposedly Barrow County cannot afford to do so. 

It has been suggested that our Board of education has refused to exempt citizens 65 years and older from the education portion of their property tax bill under the guise of keeping business taxes lower in order to attract more businesses to our community. This is an old argument, but has it really worked and at what cost to home owners? Should senior citizens who helped to fund education in our county during their income earning years be now required to pay ever increasing school taxes in their retirement years? I strongly suggest not and hope that there are sufficient numbers who will agree by joining with me to pressure our School Board to grant exemption from the school M&O taxes for senior citizens. 

I hope that the 2020 property tax statements for our county will reflect such a change!

— 

Warren Gardner

Winder

(1) comment

Carlos Lynch

I don't know who you are getting your info from, but there has been a school tax exception for seniors for several years.

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