Dalton school board seeks increased homestead exemptions

Mar. 14—The Dalton Board of Education voted 5-0 on Monday to ask the state legislature to place on the November ballot a referendum on whether to increase homestead exemptions for school taxes for elderly residents of the city.

The school system currently provides a homestead exemption of $75,000 to those 65 and older with a gross income of less than $35,000 a year. The resolution, if approved by voters, would increase that to $150,000. The school system provides a homestead exemption of $150,000 to those 70 and older regardless of income. The resolution would increase that to $250,000.

"This would be recognition of our seniors, many of whom are on a fixed income and are hit hard when there are significant increases in the tax digest, which there were last year until that was suspended and we reverted to the previous year's rates," said board Chairman Matt Evans.

If voters approve the referendum the new homestead exemption rates would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2024, so they would not affect this year's taxes.

The City Council last week approved an identical resolution asking to put a measure on the November ballot to increase the homestead exemptions for the property tax that funds city government operations.

Last year, preliminary assessments showed the assessed value of residential properties rose an average of 22% in Whitfield County. Commercial and industrial assessments rose an average of 15%.

The assessments are set by the county Board of Assessors. Members of that board are appointed by the county Board of Commissioners but the assessors are independent of the county and must follow rules and regulations set by the state.

In September, representatives from the Dalton and Whitfield County public school systems, the city of Dalton and Whitfield County asked the Board of Assessors to hold property assessments at their 2021 levels to protect homeowners and to give the representatives time to find long-term solutions to soaring reassessments.

In February, the county Board of Commissioners formally requested a piece of local legislation before the state legislature that would limit assessments from increasing more than 6% in any one year or 14% in any three-year period on any properties that have a homestead exemption.

That would set as the base for an assessment the lowest assessed value in the years 2021-2023 for exemptions granted in 2024. After 2024, when homeowners applied for homestead, their base would be the home's current market value the year that they applied. After a home is sold, the purchase price would become the base.

If approved by the legislature and signed by the governor this year, that measure would be placed on the ballot in November for county voters to give final approval to or reject.