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Make 62-year-olds pay school taxes

Cobb County

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 Cobb resident Monty S. Levy sent me this column on the school tax exemption extended to seniors in his county. He describes himself as "a recovering real estate attorney.'  He is now an investment sale broker focusing on hotel real estate.

By Monty S. Levy

I just can’t take it anymore. An article in The Atlanta Journal-Constitutio concerning the passage of the Cobb County school budget for the 2013-14 school year has finally pushed me over the edge. Like Peter Finch in the movie “Network,” I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.

I have been a homeowner in East Cobb for almost 13 years. My wife and I moved to Cobb from DeKalb County when our youngest child was 3 years old, primarily due to the quality of the public school system. As a staunch proponent of public schools — having attended public schools myself in the Northeast through high school and thereafter attending college here in Atlanta and then_ law school elsewhere — I am a believer that the quality of life in any given city is directly and materially impacted by the quality of its public schools.

My oldest daughter is now completing her sophomore year at North Cobb High School in its International Studies Magnet Program after attending Sope Creek Elementary School and East Cobb Middle School, while my 9-year-old twins are about to complete third grade at Sope Creek.

On the whole, my wife and I have been quite pleased with the quality of our children’s education, but over the past few years have noticed some changes for the worse. Most notably, we have seen an unfortunate increase in class size and a cutback in certain programs. The Cobb system, like many others, has faced budget constraints in recent years due to the financial crisis that hit us all in the fall of 2008.

Nonetheless, the school budget problemswe face in Cobb are magnified due to the idiotic and unsupportable policy of providing homeowners ages 62 and above with an exemption in paying the school portion of their annual real estate property taxes. The school portion is roughly 40 percent of the total Cobb property tax bill, so it is not an insignificant amount.

I suspect at least 20 percent of all homes or more in the county are owned by those 62 and older. That means the total amount of school taxes that should be paid — but are not — is in the millions of dollars each year.

My outrage at this absurd exemption would be shared by many others if they really thought about the policy – or lack thereof – behind such a tax exemption. Simply put, a couple from California can elect to move to the Atlanta area and, if they purchase a home in Cobb, qualify for this exemption.

I have been unable to determine the reason this policy was put in place or why it continues today, given our budget woes.

Is it because those over 62 don’t typically burden the school system with school-age children? I know of many friends in Cobb county who will still have children in public school when they turn 62.

And what of those couples who own homes and never have children or send their children to private schools? This exemption is not provided to them. Finally, we live in a time 62 is not the retirement age for the majority of the workforce. The retirement age will continue to be pushed further back as we grapple with a crumbling Social Security system and as people live longer and stay vital later in life.

I challenge and defy anyone to explain why this sham of a tax exemption should continue as our schools continue to erode and the tax base suffers.

With all due respect to those over 62 who bring much to our community, one of the historic strengths of Cobb County has been its first-rate public school system. If we expect this to continue, we will need to make some hard choices. Eliminating the exemption for those over 62 is much more palatable than continuing to cut teachers and programs and increase class size to the detriment of our children.

Moreover, if this exemption is eliminated, one might expect more families with school-age children to move to Cobb as the school budget – and hence quality of the schools – is enhanced.

 

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