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Why property tax exemptions are worrying school officials
Hall County Schools Office

The number of property tax exemptions for certain qualified residents, and the corresponding loss of revenue for local school districts, continues to grow year after year.

It’s a worrisome trend for some school officials who said it could be more difficult to balance budgets without tax increases if these exemptions aren’t checked, particularly as student enrollment continues to rise.

Brian Sloan
“We cannot continue granting more and more and more exemptions,” Hall County Board of Education member Brian Sloan said. “There are just not enough people left at the table to pay for the dinner.”

In Hall County, the percentage of tax exemptions as a share of the gross tax digest (or all taxable properties in the county school district’s jurisdiction) grew to 20.72 percent for the current 2019 fiscal year from 19.7 percent in the 2014 fiscal year.

Board Chairman Nath Morris said that figure was around just 9 percent when he was first elected in 2000.

“It’s about all exemptions,” he said.

There are many exemptions available, such as for disabled veterans, surviving spouses of firefighters, and for agriculture and conservation.

Senior citizens, however, account for the largest share of residents exempt from school taxes. 

For example, seniors accounted for a full 61 percent of all exemptions in Hall, equaling a loss of about $53 million in revenue to the school district over the last five years even as the millage rate has fallen to 18.20 from 19.25.

U.S. Census numbers for 2016 show a graying of Hall County, with the number of residents 65 and older doubling since 2000, rising to an estimated 27,256 from 13,067.

Today, that age group makes up an estimated 14 percent of Hall’s population. Additionally, Hall picked up 3,010 residents between 2014 and 2015, with 42 percent of them 65 and older.

“When we look at the amount of school funding revenue that we get from a mill (it) is so different than it was five years ago,” Morris said, adding that the opening of two new schools this year, coupled with commercial growth rising faster than residential, also complicates a nearly $300 million general fund budget.  

When all exemptions are tallied, Hall County Schools expects to lose potential tax revenue from about $1.3 billion worth of property values in the 2019 fiscal year, which began July 1, up from $980 million in 2014.

Sloan said many exemptions are certainly legit and he would like to offer some relief to low-income families.

But he argues that seniors who can afford the tax ought to pay.

After all, Sloan said, Hall County may be educating the doctor that will one day treat a tax-exempt senior resident. 

Today’s students might also be supporting the social security retirement accounts of seniors by working a part-time job after school. Or education may be just the thing that preempts a life of crime and saves taxpayers money in the long run.

Don’t exempt yourself on principle alone, Sloan said, “If at all possible …”

Meanwhile, Gainesville City Schools has seen its number of exemptions rise to 1,983 in 2018 from 1,392 exemptions in 2013.

The total revenue lost due to all exemptions has grown to approximately $6 million this year from about $4 million in 2013.

Senior resident exemptions account for more than 50 percent of all city schools exemptions.

Hall County Schools                   

Total tax exemptions

2013: $980,636,057

2018: $1,171,851,847

Gainesville City Schools

Total tax exemptions 

2013: $3,979,144

2018: $5,988,869