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Gainesville voters to decide on homestead exemption
School taxes could be dropped for ages 70, 71
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A new group of Gainesville residents may not have to pay school taxes on their homes when tax season rolls around in the spring.

On Nov. 2, voters will decide in a special election whether full homestead exemptions can apply to those 70 and older - dropping the age requirement from 72 to 70.

Hall County voters approved this change in November 2008, and state legislators approved the same move for the city in June. If voters approve the referendum question, it will take effect Jan. 1.

"This is big because they'll reduce their bill by two-thirds. The school tax is the hugest portion of a tax bill," said Lanny Kersh, Hall County's deputy tax commissioner. "They get to wash that away. A lot of people come in and tell us they've already raised their kids or don't even have kids, but there's no way to monitor that, so it applies across the board until you hit that golden age."

Leveling the city's age with the county's age requirement will make many people happy, he said.

"If you live right inside the city annexation, your sister a few streets away could get the exemption when you aren't," Kersh said. "People will be glad. Originally, 75 was the school tax exemption age and over the years it was voted down to 72 and now 70. In Forsyth it's 65, and some counties give nothing at all, so it's really a local issue."

City officials posted the public notice about the special election Tuesday. The referendum will appear on the electronic ballots for residents who live in the city.

City Clerk Denise Jordan reminded City Council members about the referendum during Tuesday's council meeting, and several council members asked voters to pay attention.

"I keep pushing for everybody to go vote," said council member Myrtle Figueras. "I'm urging people to ask their own blood relatives to go to the polls. If they would do that, we'd get more people voting. Nobody has an excuse, especially with early voting."

Gov. Sonny Perdue signed the House Bill 1255 in June. A partial exemption applies for residents ages 62 to 70 if the family income falls below $25,000.

Under the referendum, all people are fully exempt from school taxes at age 70 regardless of income.

When 92 percent of voters approved the change for Hall County in 2008, some residents missed the exemption application deadline with the Hall County Tax Assessors Office. The application period opens Jan. 1, with the partial exemption deadline for ages 62 to 70 on March 1 and the full exemption deadline for ages 70 and older on May 1.

Taxpayers who applied for a partial school tax exemption at age 62 do not have to reapply for the full exemption when they turn 70. However, a taxpayer's birth date must be in the tax assessors' database by May 1 for the automatic exemption to take effect.

The change shouldn't affect the Gainesville City Schools system much, said superintendent Merrianne Dyer.

"About 70 percent of our tax base is business," she said. "The change will affect us somewhat, but we don't receive as much from residential areas."

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