Deadlines for registration, early, and absentee voting.
Frequently Asked Questions
Click below for answers to some of the most commonly asked questions.
What is a homestead exemption?
A General Homestead Exemption allows owner-occupied homeowners to save on property taxes by reducing the amount of their home’s assessed value. In most cases, the assessed value is significantly less than market value. The amount of property tax owed is based on a home’s assessed value less the exemption amount. For example, if a home is assessed at $150,000 and the allowed homestead exemption is $25,000, the taxes will only be owed on the remaining $125,000. DeKalb County assesses the value of all properties in the county.
Both the City of Decatur and DeKalb County offer several Homestead Exemptions. The General Homestead is usually applied for at the time of a home’s purchase. Other types of exemptions are offered to homeowners who meet certain eligibility requirements such as age, income, or disability.
Where can I find my Property Tax bills online?
Decatur homeowners receive property tax bills from both the City of Decatur and DeKalb County. The links below allow you to search for your tax bills:
Decatur’s website shows tax bills for 6 months and must be multiplied by 2 to arrive at the total tax due for the entire year.
DeKalb County’s website shows taxes owed for the entire year.
Where can I find information about Decatur’s current Homestead Exemptions?
Click here to see Decatur’s current Homestead Exemptions.
Why are the City of Decatur voters being given an opportunity to provide school tax relief to our seniors?
Many of Decatur’s senior population bought their houses decades ago when housing prices were what a new economy car costs today. They raised their families here, sending their children to Decatur City Schools, contributing to the community and paying their taxes diligently each year. Today most seniors live on fixed incomes, some only on social security, but still must bear the rising cost of living.
The success of the City of Decatur and it’s school system has come at a steep price for our older neighbors. They have seen their homes rise in value to the point where the taxes have become such a burden many feel their only choice is to sell and move away. This often takes them from their family and lifelong friends at a time in their lives when these connections are so important.
The passage of the General Obligation (GO) Bond in November 2015 also raised Decatur homeowner’s taxes, adding even more to our senior’s financial burden. All Decatur homeowners, including seniors, are obligated to pay this separate line item tax. The GO Bond is not included in the tax relief proposal.
One of the goals of the senior tax exemption is to assist our seniors to age in place, not only to help them, but also to preserve the city’s unique and diverse community. Decatur is committed to promoting diversity and offering tax relief to our valued seniors is part of that commitment.
In addition, by encouraging seniors to stay in their homes it helps slow the growth of our schools’ population. Frequently when a senior moves out, their home is torn down or enlarged to make way for a 4-5 bedroom home where a new family with multiple children often moves in, adding to the overcrowding of our schools. The cost to relieve a senior’s school taxes is less than adding 2 or more children to the system, even with the new homeowner paying higher taxes.
From The Decatur Board of Education’s Feb. 9, 2016 published statement:
“The School Board has been and remains committed to providing tax relief for all seniors. The resolution we passed on August 11, 2015, reflects our commitment to seniors. The purpose of the senior exemption is twofold. The primary purpose is to help seniors retire in place, at home in Decatur. A secondary purpose is to slow growth in our schools. Experience has shown that when seniors move out, families move in.”
Listen to some of our senior citizens’ testimony before the Decatur City Commission on June 15, 2015 here.
Can Decatur afford to give senior homeowners (65+) a break on the school tax?
Does Decatur currently offer complete school tax relief to any seniors?
Yes, with restrictions. All homeowners must be at least 80 years old and have combined household income that does not exceed $40,000.
Does Decatur’s Board of Commissioners support the homestead exemptions on the ballot?
One of the City of Decatur’s long-term goals is to maintain a diverse community. The 2010 Strategic Plan and this year’s Annual Report were written with this in mind.
From Decatur’s 2010 Strategic Plan, page 56:
GOAL 5: MAINTAIN AND ENCOURAGE DIVERSITY OF RACE, ETHNICITY, INCOME, CULTURE, AGE, FAMILY TYPE, AND OTHER KINDS OF DIVERSITY
TASK 5A – Promote Decatur as a lifelong community that is welcoming to people of all ages and supports programs that allow older residents to stay in their homes, stay in the community, and age in place. Explore options like Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORC) or Senior Village Support Networks that address this task.
From the City of Decatur’s 2016 Annual Report:
“In 2013, the Decatur City Commission authorized the commission of a Lifelong Community Advisory Board to assist with the expansion and implementation of the city’s lifelong community initiatives, including those in the 2010 Strategic Plan. One component of a Lifelong Community is the ability of its’ members to age in place.”
The City Commission lobbied DeKalb legislators representing Decatur in the State House and Senate to write the referenda for tax relief on the Nov. 8, 2016 ballot.
As an official body, the Decatur City Commission cannot use City resources to advocate for or against the referenda and will not take a position. Each Commissioner can state an individual opinion.
Does Decatur’s School Board support the homestead exemptions that affect the schools?
In the Feb. 3, 2016 edition of The Decatur Minute School Board Chair Annie Caiola stated, “Over the past decade there have been significant austerity cuts to the State’s education budget, meaning that local residents have had to pay more and more property taxes in order to maintain the strength of our school system. The increasing property taxes are forcing too many seniors out of our community, and it needs to stop. The City Schools of Decatur School Board strongly supports legislation that will exempt our seniors from ad valorem school taxes.”
Decatur’s Board of Education began the discussion about offering a more comprehensive senior property tax exemption in 2014. As property values increased, the Board repeatedly heard the concerns of senior homeowners on fixed incomes. In response, the Board lowered the millage rate and started the process to have legislation introduced in the Georgia General Assembly to eliminate school property taxes for homeowners over the age of 65. In 2015, the Board signed the resolution advocating for the passage of legislation to allow the voters of Decatur to have a say in this issue. Thanks to the hard work of several state lawmakers, as well as our own community leaders and residents, the legislation was passed during the 2016 legislative session.
As an official body, the Decatur School Board cannot use School Board resources to advocate for or against the referenda and will not take a position. Each Board Member can state an individual opinion.
How much does it cost CSD to educate one student?
The cost to the school budget by giving senior homeowners tax relief is less than the cost of educating one child in the system. Multiply the cost per child by two or three and the math shows that keeping seniors in their Decatur homes is simply more cost effective for the time being. The five year sunset will allow for adjustments as needed. The following illustration from the City Schools of Decatur’s website shows average per pupil expenditures and the impact a senior property tax exemption could have on school enrollment and the CSD’s budget.
How will the senior tax exemption help curb our school enrollment numbers?
Overcrowding at City of Decatur’s schools has become a front and center issue. The success of our schools has resulted in many young families eager to live here pushing our schools to near capacity, with some actually exceeding it. The increasing property taxes to support our great schools have become a burden for many of Decatur’s seniors. The passage of the General Obligation (GO) Bond last year added to that burden. As a result many seniors are faced with having to sell their homes. More often than not, when a senior sells their home it is torn down or enlarged to make way for a 4 to 5 bedroom house where a new family with multiple children often moves in, adding to our schools’ population. Allowing our seniors to remain in their homes longer will slow the infill housing boom resulting in a reduction of the number of children added to school roles.
Why is there a 5 year sunset clause in the 65+ homestead exemption and what happens when the 5 years is up?
The legislation for the senior tax exemption was originally introduced in the Georgia General Assembly without a sunset clause. It became apparent that the legislature would not pass the bill without some sort of safeguard to insure the exemption would be feasible over time. There was also concern that the legislation, without a sunset, could serve as precedence for other jurisdictions in Georgia that might want to offer a similar exemption. The sponsor of the bill, Senator Elena Parent, worked with the School Board members on the length of time the sunset clause would need. The conclusion was that 5 years would be sufficient to determine if any adjustments, such as an income cap or assessment limits would be required.
The Decatur Board of Education issued a statement on Feb. 9, 2016 regarding the reasoning behind the 5 year sunset clause.
Excerpts From The Decatur Board of Education’s Homestead Exemption Statement:
“The Board of Education supports a 5 year sunset for the following reasons:
- It allows us time to assess what the actual cost of the exemption will be.
- The sunset honors our commitments to both seniors and taxpayers.
- The sunset allows us to adjust for changing circumstances.
Many seniors have also expressed concern that they might be hit with higher taxes again in 5 years. The School Board’s goal is to provide long term, sustainable tax relief to all seniors. If the landscape changes such that we need to adjust the exemption in 5 years (which we hope is not the case), the Board is much more likely to examine income caps, assessment limits, or other tiered tax relief, before it would do away with senior tax exemptions all together.”
The entire statement from the Board of Education can be found here.
Why wasn’t an income cap included in the 65+ homestead exemption for school taxes?
The intention of the 65+ exemption is to give tax relief to as many Decatur senior homeowners as possible, therefore it was decided not to put an income cap in the legislation. The safeguard for this is the five-year sunset to insure it remains economically feasible over time. An income cap, as well as other eligibility requirements, may be considered in 2021 when the exemption expires.
Will the tax relief for seniors also include the General Obligation (GO) Bond tax the voters approved in 2015?
No, the GO Bond is a separate line item on Decatur’s property tax bill called “2016 Bond School” and all homeowners, including seniors, will still be responsible for that.
If approved by the voters, how will the proposed homestead exemption for 65+ homeowners impact the budget of City of Decatur schools?
The impact to the schools’ budget is estimated to be, on average $1,200,000 per year over the next five years. The expectation is the loss in revenue will be made up by the residential and commercial tax digest rising at a reasonable rate because of increasing property values. The goal of keeping seniors in their homes won’t stop all houses from being sold and torn down, or enlarged, but it will definitely slow the pace. Every time a new home is built or an older one remodeled it is reassessed, increasing its’ value, resulting in higher taxes. Decatur’s real estate values were able to weather the economic downturn several years ago better than most anywhere in Georgia, with people continuing to want to live in the city due to our award winning community and great schools. The prevailing view is the school budget will be able to make up the difference without having to raise the millage rate. In addition, the cost to relieve a senior’s school taxes is less than adding 2 or more children to the system, even with the new homeowner paying higher taxes. Click here to see the Estimate of Senior Homestead Exemption Impact according to the CSD.
I am under the age of 65. Will my taxes be increased to make up the deficit created in the school budget by the new homestead exemptions for seniors?
In the final analysis, Decatur’s Board of Education can’t promise that the school’s millage rate won’t go up for homeowners under 65. The millage rate for the schools remained the same for school year 2016 – 2017 as it was for the previous year. The intention is to keep that same millage rate for as long as possible. The senior school tax exemption is based on Decatur’s tax digest growing at a steady pace due to residential and commercial property values increasing, allowing the school’s budget to be fulfilled without raising the millage. Decatur’s real estate prices weathered the economic downturn a few years back better than most jurisdictions in Georgia and there is confidence that the city’s property values will continue to increase due to the high demand to live in the city.
In addition, by allowing seniors to remain in their homes, it keeps the student population from increasing too rapidly, helping control overcrowding. When an older person leaves Decatur because they can’t afford or plainly don’t want to pay the taxes anymore it is typical for their house to be torn down or enlarged into a 4-5 bedroom home where a new family with children often move in and attend the much desired Decatur schools. The loss of the school taxes with the exemption is definitely less than the cost to the schools by the addition of 2 or more children that could potentially be added by a larger home on that senior’s lot.
I am a single homeowner with no children in the City of Decatur school system, why should seniors get tax relief and not me?
There are many homeowners in Decatur who have lived here for decades that have never had children in the school system yet still believed in the importance of public education as a benefit for the entire community. Back when they bought their homes the assessed value was nowhere close to what it has grown to today. Now these folks, having reached retirement age, are faced with the possibility of being forced to leave their beloved homes and community because their fixed income can’t keep up with the rising taxes. The tax relief referendum helps these seniors remain in their homes. Childless homeowners under the age of 65 who purchased homes and condos in Decatur in the recent past have an easier choice of where they live. The option to move to a lower taxed home is a less difficult decision for younger folks than for the seniors who have lived in the same house for 30, 40, sometimes 50 years.
Do I have to file separately for each new homestead exemption if I meet the requirements?
If you have already filed for the General Homestead Exemption then you do not have to file for the first exemption on the ballot (Senate Bill 339, Act No. 382) Homeowners can apply for the General Homestead Exemption online here.
For all other exemptions, including the new ones on the ballot, you must fill out a separate application at Decatur City Hall, 509 N. McDonough Street, Monday – Friday, 8am – 5pm.
I am eligible for several of the new tax relief proposals on the ballot this year. I am also willing to continue supporting the schools with my tax dollars. Am I obligated to file for the homestead exemptions should they pass?
No there is no obligation to file for any homestead exemptions, if you should so choose.
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