School board: Looking into ‘complex’ property tax issue

Published 12:40 pm Friday, October 18, 2019

The Troup County School Board has been asked to increase the local homestead exemptions for senior citizens and disabled citizens. If implemented, this action lowers the school tax portion of the homeowner’s property tax bill on their primary residence and, as a result, the amount available to fund the school system. The Board is sympathetic to the needs of those members of our community who are on fixed incomes and struggling to make ends meet and will give this request all due consideration.

This is a very complex issue that we must take the time to get right. There are competing interests and both sides can make compelling arguments for the merits of the cause. As a school board, we have to weigh all considerations and do what is sustainable and in the best interest of our students, staff, community and all taxpayers.

Here are a few facts that we all need to consider as we seek the right answer:

  • The TCSS millage rate has not changed in 14 years. It was lowered from 19.28 to 18.85 in 2005 and has been constant since then. However, the amount of tax paid has increased for many because of an increase in the assessed value of the property. Troup County is below the state maximum allowable millage rate of 20.00 mills.
  • While we have been able to hold the millage rate constant over 14 years, the state’s contribution to local education has fallen from 56.86% in 2005 to 52.93% in 2019.  That equates to over $3 million dollars per year that has to be paid by the local community.
  • We have a growing senior population that lives on a tight fixed income. In many cases, this income has not kept pace with basic living expenses, including their property tax resulting in increasing financial hardships.
  • The TCSS budget is comprised of 86.9% payroll related costs. The balance of the budget is largely fixed costs such as utilities, supplies, bus fuel and purchased services.  This means any material reduction in the budget will result in a reduction in TCSS teachers and staff. 
  • The information needed to model alternative scenarios is disaggregated. That means there is no single source that can link property owners, the age of the property owner and the income of the property owner. This makes any modeling and financial impact more challenging. The Board is retaining a firm to help us aggregate the data to determine the revenue impact of different scenarios.
  • A senior homestead exemption will not benefit any senior who rents their home.  The senior pays property tax via the rent payment; however, rental property is not subject to a homestead exemption. Accordingly, all seniors will not be impacted equally.
  • Some counties offer some sort of increased exemptions for seniors and/or disabled citizens.  This is driven in large part by their local economies and demographics.  See the below above for examples. 

  • Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (E-SPLOST) funds are used exclusively for capital and non-operating expenses. By law, these funds cannot be used to fund operating expenses (salaries) of the system. The E-SPLOST is used to fund capital projects (new buildings, buses, technology, etc.) and improvements at existing facilities.  The E-SPLOST replaced the prior funding method of school bonds. No property taxes have been used to finance the system’s capital projects since 1996. Note that the millage rate was 19.66 in 1996 compared to 18.85 today. E-SPLOST collections involve a 1% sales tax collected from all sales in the county. This includes an estimated 30% from non-Troup county residents who shop and vacation in our county.

The Troup County School System faces unique challenges. We have not performed to the level we want and our community expects.

We recognize that, and we have recently hired a new superintendent with a vision and a passion to overcome these challenges and push Troup County to become one of the higher performing districts in the state. Everyone in Troup County benefits when we have stronger schools that produce successful citizens. We also recognize that the immediate stress and strain of the property tax is real to our seniors. That is why we have to gather facts, obtain input, and analyze outcomes in order to make a sustainable, informed decision.

Be assured that we hear all of you, and we welcome your input. We will hold community forums in the coming months to share the information we are gathering and to seek input from all stakeholders as we strive to make decisions that best help our entire community.

Our desire is to be transparent, communicative and collaborative as we work to make progress in the many matters that affect our schools and community. We look forward to working together amicably as we seek the best solution for our students, system and community.

Troup County School Board

(Kirk Hancock, Allen Simpson, Brandon Brooks, Joe Franklin, Becky Grubbs, Cathy Hunt, Tanya Jones-Cameron)