Senior tax exemption push off BOE’s table
By Kathryn Schiliro
The push for a tax exemption from the school board for county seniors has been called off.
Johnny Youngblood, a representative of the local group JOLT (Job Opportunities and Lower Taxes), approached the Morgan County Board of Education (BOE) in the spring with a request to implement a measure, in phases, that would exempt local seniors from paying school taxes. He followed up that request Monday, Dec. 10 at the BOE’s meeting after doing more research on the BOE's budget and speaking to BOE members over the past months.
“I know everything’s tight...and it’s going to be tighter next year,” Youngblood said. “I know y’all are not going to vote for it (the senior tax exemption).”
In the spring, Youngblood also called for an external audit of the school system to ensure “you have the right people in the right place money-wise.”
“We try to be extremely careful and cognizant with funds,” BOE Chairman Nelson Hale said. “We don't feel like we have any excess [to pay for an external audit].”
Hale added that the system is audited by the state each year and that the BOE has taken steps to reduce spending where possible, like not filling about 30 positions when teachers have retired or left the system.
He continued to say that at last month's meeting, several county seniors spoke to the board opposing senior tax exemptions.
BOE member Keith Howard added that there are two bankers on the board – both are on financially related committees – and that the board did hire a former state auditor, Libby Whitaker, as internal auditor.
Youngblood did make one suggestion to the school board: allow collections from the BOE's 1 percent sales tax to fund more than capital projects.
However, this would require the state legislature changing the law surrounding the Education Local Option Sales Tax (ELOST) and what the tax can be used to fund.
Youngblood indicated that based on his research, other school board statewide feel the same and he suggested the county BOE get with other BOEs to lobby for the change.
If the ELOST change went through then maybe some tax relief for seniors could be considered, he suggested.
Hale said that a legislative change to what ELOST can fund would be a "slippery slope," suggesting legislators might see the additional income as reason to hold back on funds to school systems.
BOE member Dave Belton said that the system's cost per child has decreased over the past years, but that using ELOST funds in new ways is "something we could do on an emerging basis" and said he planned to bring it up with legislators on a visit to the state Capitol.
"Maybe [the BOE will reconsider a senior tax exemption] in 15 years, when times get good," Youngblood concluded.
Printed in the December 20, 2012 edition