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Tax exemption costs schools
A state measure that exempts thousands of older Glynn County homeowners from paying school taxes is likely to cost the board of education millions of dollars in lost tax revenue again this year.

Last year, 2,123 homeowners at least 65 years old with Georgia taxable net income of $40,000 or less received the property tax exemption that trimmed $1.9 million from the Glynn County School System's budget.

"There will probably be even more people this year," said Millard Allen, board of education chair.

He attributes that to the poor economy, more people reaching the age of 65 and greater awareness of the exemption.

Allen said last year's hit was harder than anticipated. That's because school officials thought the law that passed the state legislature and approved by county voters in a referendum November 2008 meant gross income under $40,000, not taxable net income under $40,000.

"That made a huge difference," Allen said. "Many who would not have qualified did end up qualifying."

Georgia taxable net income differs from gross income in a huge way. Net income is a person or couple's income after all state and federal deductions are taken out. That can be considerably less than actual income.

It will be a while before school administrators know the impact of the exemption this year.

Glynn County Tax Commissioner Florence Dees said the tax office has just begun taking applications and that it will be the first week of April before there is a final tally.

"There's no way to tell how many we've got (right now)," Dees said. The deadline for filing for the exemption is April 1.

Allen anticipates the school budget will lose at least $2 million, as it did last year, if not more.

"I would not be surprised if it was $2.5 million, something in that range," he said. "Folks are more aware and will take advantage of it."

The County Homestead Act allows Glynn County residents older than 65 to be exempt from the portion of the property tax that goes to schools. That amounts to about 70 percent of a total property tax bill property owners receive. The remaining 30 percent goes to the county.

On the surface, the bill introduced by state Sen. Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick, appears to protect retired individuals and couples with an income of $40,000 or less. However, there are a number of tax deductions and exclusions available to senior citizens in Georgia, making it relatively easy for even persons with gross income of $100,000 to fall below the $40,000 ceiling.

Even though Allen says the financial hit won't be as big of a surprise this year, one thing is certain: "There's going to be less money (collected)," he said.

That's not what the school board wants to hear when it is already trying to reduce the budget to absorb cuts lobbed at public schools by the Georgia General Assembly as it struggles to come to grips with low revenues in a poor economy.

How to apply

Homeowners at least 65 years old Jan. 1 whose Georgia net taxable income, when combined with that of a spouse, was $40,000 or less the preceding calendar year can apply for an exemption from school taxes at the Glynn County Tax Commissioner office, 1725 Reynolds St., Brunswick.

New applicants must present copies of state and federal income tax returns, Social Security number and a photo identification card. Applicants who are not required to file federal income tax returns must have other proof of household income.

Homeowners who received the exemption last year must take or fax proof of income for 2009 to the tax office. The fax number is 267-5684.

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