Friday, Oct. 15, 2004
Rutherford casts lone vote against senior tax exemption
By J. FRANK LYNCH
A vote by the Peachtree City Council last week to seek an extra homestead tax exemption for the citys senior citizens had a surprise detractor in Councilwoman Judi-ann Rutherford, who cast the lone vote against the idea.
There are 35,000 people in this city who pay taxes, and whenever somebody doesnt pay, somebody else has to, Rutherford explained of her decision.
The seniors take advantage of a lot of services, they have the Gathering Place, and they should pay their fair share, she said.
With the 4-1 decision, the council voted to send a letter to Fayette Countys legislators asking them to sponsor a bill to put the issue on the ballot next November. Peachtree City voters would then decide in a referendum whether to grant an extra $5,000 exemption to seniors who earn less than $30,000 a year.
Councilman Murray Weed was outraged at Rutherfords lack of support, saying chances were remote that the lawmakers would take up the cause without the unanimous support of the council.
Our legislative delegation has consistently refused to support any local legislation without a 5-0 vote of the council, Weed declared at the Oct. 7 meeting.
Youre making an assumption that theres no chance of this passing, cautioned Councilman Stuart Kourajian.
Replied Weed, Theres more chance that chair over there will get up and walk around the room than this passing in the legislature.
Councilman Steve Rapson expressed more hope.
I remain optimistic that it wont get mired in the mud of the past, he said.
Weed was basing his argument on a 2002 situation in which then-Rep. Kathy Cox, now state school superintendent, refused to sponsor so-called enabling legislation without a unanimous vote from the council.
At the time, the council wanted to establish a Community Improvement District for Ga. Highway 54 West, which would have allowed business owners in the corridor to assess special taxes to fund projects in the area.
When Cox refused to sponsor the legislation, the effort died.
Because of redistricting, Fayette County will have several new faces in the state house this year. There was no indication that the local lawmakers would embrace Coxs earlier position.
City officials arent sure how much of an annual dip in revenue the tax exemption would create, estimating anywhere from a low of $6,000 to a high of $40,000 based on the numbers of seniors who qualify and apply.
Because of that uncertainty, Kourajian refused to support the tax break idea when it first came up for discussion last month. He changed his mind after meeting with members of the citys Senior Council.
Mayor Steve Brown said one of the intentions of passing the exemption is to get a better idea of how many seniors in the city are living on fixed incomes, and what their needs are.
The false assumption is that everyone living in Peachtree City is wealthy, and thats not true, Brown said, citing examples of seniors who write him letters asking for help repairing their homes.
We said all along that it wouldnt be a lot of people, Brown said. But it would be a measurable way to identify a segment of the population, and it would tell me what we need to do to help these residents.
Brown said he was disappointed Rutherford didnt show willingness to let a referendum decide the matter.
To say Im not even going to let the people decide to vote on it, thats what I just dont understand, he said. If theres some indecision about how it should go, let the people decide.
Rutherford said shed rather see the city try to hold down costs across the board rather than grant exemptions to certain groups.
I think the seniors and everybody would be better served if we did all we can do to hold down expenses and taxes, she said.
Copyright 2004-Fayette Publishing, Inc.