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School tax break doesnt apply in city
Lawmakers left Gainesville school system out of legislation due to budget shortfall
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Read the bill here.

Gainesville taxpayers between the ages of 70 and 72 won’t be getting the same breaks on their tax bills as their county counterparts this year.

City school officials learned last week that a bill lowering the age requirement for seniors to receive a break on school taxes does not apply to Gainesville residents.

Until a week ago, tax digests provided by the Hall County Tax Assessors Office reflected that 36 Gainesville residents ages 70 and 71 would receive the school tax exemption on their 2009 tax bills.

The school system planned its budget accordingly, deducting the approximately $66,000 property tax revenue it would have received from those 36 taxpayers.

"We were under the impression that we were included and were planning accordingly," said Gainesville school Superintendent Merrianne Dyer.

But last week, the tax office informed Gainesville Administrative Services Director Melody Marlowe of the mistake. Although the mistake will not affect Gainesville’s budget, city employee Marlowe oversees the billing and collection of city school taxes.

The bill creating the exemption for the Hall County school system and calling for a referendum on the lowered age requirement does not mention the Gainesville school system. City voters did not vote on the referendum when it came before county voters in November.

"I would have assumed it would have been countywide, including the city," Marlowe said.

State Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, said local legislators specifically left the city school system out of the exemption amendment when it was written in March 2008 because of the system’s budget issues.

"That was in the midst of the Steven Ballowe saga when I kept hearing there was a shortfall," Rogers said.

The school board fired Ballowe from his position as superintendent in July 2008, shortly after school system officials discovered a $5.4 million deficit.

Rogers said legislators did not want to cut the school system’s revenue more when it faced such a shortfall. He said legislators will probably revisit the issue for city property owners in the future.

"I felt like at this time with the budget woes they had, to cut another million dollars of ad valorem and put it back on everybody else was not the right thing to do until we knew what was going on," Rogers said.