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Senior tax exemption gets state approval

COVINGTON - Local legislation providing an additional homestead exemption for senior citizens has passed both the state House and Senate.

The House approved Senate Bill 544 by a margin of 152-3 on Thursday. The Senate gave it's approval a week earlier by a vote of 54-0.

Now all that is required before the issue can be put on the November ballot is a signature from Gov. Sonny Perdue.

"This exemption is a step in the right direction to help relieve the financial burdens imposed on citizens as a result of taxation," said Sen. John Douglas, R-Social Circle, who sponsored the bill in the Senate. "It will greatly benefit our senior citizen homeowners. I was pleased to guide the bill through the Senate."

In February, county commissioners agreed to hold a referendum to allow voters to decide whether seniors should receive an additional $10,000 homestead exemption from ad valorem taxes.

If approved, seniors with an income of $25,000 or less would receive a total exemption of $30,000 - $26,000 locally and $4,000 from the state - effective on the 2009 tax digest.

Such a measure would result in a loss in revenue of about $437,000 to the county, according to Chief Tax Appraiser Tommy Knight.

Currently, seniors earning $15,000 or less receive a $16,000 local exemption plus a $4,000 exemption from the state.

A total of 3,188 parcels currently qualify for the exemption.

That amounts to a total annual loss in revenue of $496,308

If the homestead exemption is raised by $10,000, an additional $310,192 would be lost, he said.

By raising the income level qualification from $15,000 to $25,000, approximately 500 new parcels would qualify, creating an additional possible loss of $126,490 for a total loss of $436,682.

Knight estimated that other taxpayers would be impacted by an additional $10 to $11 on their tax bills, if commissioners opt to keep the current millage rate of 9.73 mils.

In February, almost 87 percent of voters approved an additional homestead exemption for seniors on Newton County School System ad valorem taxes.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.