Centerville residents speak out on senior property tax exemption

Sun News correspondentMarch 26, 2013 

CENTERVILLE -- Residents voiced opinions about the city’s senior tax exemption to City Council Tuesday.

Opinions from the group varied from keeping the exemption as is to doing away with it to some compromise measure in between, including an exemption only on a percentage of property value.

Council members have been discussing for at least a year possibly doing away with the exemption as a means to increase revenue. Voters would have to approve the measure in a referendum.

Almost all of the more than 50 residents at the special called meeting appeared to be at, near or above the 70-plus age requirement for getting the city’s unlimited property tax exemption. Nine stood and addressed council.

“I’m proud of our city,” said Wynona Key-Sharp. “I could have moved, but I love (Centerville), and I’m proud of our growth. The last time we voted (on the exemption), I don’t think there was the option of a percentage exemption. I think it should be put to vote with a percentage.”

Key-Sharp said she feared doing away with the exemption entirely would run older, low-income residents out of the community.

“If you live in a $100,000 or over home, you can afford to pay -- I would hope,” she said.

Councilman Randall Wright has suggested a percentage exemption for homes valued at $100,000 or above and reiterated those thoughts Tuesday. Others who spoke suggested taxing a percentage at or above $25,000 or $50,000.

Harold “Bubba” Edwards, a former Centerville mayor who is below the 70 age requirement, said the exemption should be removed, but those currently receiving or about to receive it should be “grandfathered in” and continue to get the exemption. He said the exemption must be done away with if there is any hope for Centerville keeping millage rate parity with Warner Robins and attracting new business.

Red Froshour said he was just old enough to receive the exemption but had not yet done so due to having to wait a year after applying for it. He said he did not mind paying taxes but told council it needed to continue a form of exemption for seniors who cannot afford to pay the tax.

Bob Smith, 89, a longtime former Centerville councilman, said he came to Centerville not expecting an exemption but that the city would provide good services. He said though he took the exemption, he never felt right about it, and he believed it was unfair to young people living in the city who were in effect paying taxes for seniors. He said the exemption had become seen as an entitlement.

He encouraged a measure be put before the people of Centerville to decide the matter.

“I took it,” Smith said. “But I’ll drop it the day you say.”

Mayor John Harley emphasized no decisions had been made but said the increasing loss of tax revenue could not continue in light of growing costs and needs facing the city. He said residents needed to vote on the matter, and it is his job and that of council to do what is best for all residents of Centerville, both old and young.

Councilman Cameron Andrews simply said the city faced two possibilities: do away with the exemption or face tax increases.

Councilman Jonathan Nichols said his thoughts went back to the fact he had paid his way since he was 16, and he expected with today’s economy he would likely have to work well into his 60s or 70s, continuing to pay his way. He said the city could no longer afford to lose the about $200,000 a year in revenue and have young people bear the burden.

Councilman Ed Tucker has been central in discussions to get the matter on the November ballot and, in his view, have the exemption removed. He gave examples of how seniors pay county and education taxes for services they don’t receive and said they should be willing to pay for services they do receive from the city.

Tucker told the crowd he believed if full service was expected, full payment should be made for it. He said the figures that showed the need to do away with the exemption were “real and not going away.”

In the only other action Tuesday, council voted unanimously that an engineering study be undertaken for creating a north/northeast exit out of the Houston County Galleria that would exit the mall near a parking lot exit from Centerville Baptist Church.

Tucker said the location might also be the site of a new stoplight on Houston Lake Boulevard. He said the study would show mall owners the city’s intent to help create such an exit from the mall as well as help open the way for business expansion to the mall’s north side.

Contact Michael W. Pannell at mwpannell@gmail.com.

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