CENTERVILLE -- The City Council agreed Tuesday to work toward terminating the citys senior citizen property tax exemption.
Council members also said they would commit to reducing city taxes by 1 mill next year if residents vote to eliminate the tax exemption in November.
The 100-percent exemption for residents over the age of 70 has come up more and more in discussions between Mayor John Harley and council members during the past year. Councilman Edward Tucker raised the issue for discussion at the councils Tuesday work session.
According to city financial figures, Tucker said, the city has lost about $1 million in tax revenues over the past seven years, a figure which spread evenly would equal about 1 mill annually in the city.
Tucker said providing free police, fire and other services to a growing senior population, paid for by those under 70, was no longer fair or a good financial option. He said the number of residents taking the exemption has risen to 8.3 percent of the potential tax roll and is growing.
Since the amount of tax revenue to be gained without the exemption was about a mill, Tucker said he thought residents should expect a 1 mill tax decrease if they vote to remove it.
Though Tucker brought up the issue, every council member as well as Harley agreed the time to end the exemption -- or at least to let voters decide the matter -- has come.
In no way do we want to be disrespectful to seniors, but the bottom line here is a number, said Councilman Cameron Andrews. If this goes on, it will be catastrophic. We at least need to get this on the ballot.
Taking the exemption off the books or keeping it is a decision voters must make, officials said. The councils intent is to get the matter on the November general election ballot to let voters decide.
Harley asked City Administrator Patrick Eidson if it was practical to promise a 1-mill tax rollback if voters eliminated the exemption. Eidson said he thinks it is and that if that was the councils desire, he and department heads would commit to making it happen.
Officials have said the senior tax exemption was put into effect decades ago to help needy senior citizens -- mainly widows -- when Centervilles population was smaller, when the number of exemptions was negligible, and when police, fire and service budgets smaller. They said the exemption is now used by people who may not truly need it and by some who move to the city specifically to take advantage of it.
Harley, who said he would be 70 next year and eligible for the exemption, has previously committed not to take it.
The exemption discussion came on the heels of a city budget presentation by Eidson. The citys proposed budget, based on a projected income of nearly $12.3 million and expenses of just more than $12.1 million, does not raise taxes. It does give city employees a 3 percent cost-of-living raise.
The council likely will vote on the budget at its June 5 meeting.
In other financial business Tuesday, the council heard its annual financial audit report which said the citys financial house is in order. A report from the accounting firm Nichols, Cauley and Associates of Macon gave the city an unqualified rating, meaning there were no significant issues with its figures or financial procedures.