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G-J school leaders question homestead exemption change

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools leaders anticipate it could be more difficult to pass future levies with changes to the homestead property-tax exemption that are part of the state's recently approved 2014-15 budget.

State Rep. Heather Bishoff (D-Blacklick) updated the G-J school board July 11 about legislative changes and how the new state budget would affect education.

Changes to the state's homestead exemption were discussed at length during the meeting.

"I think it presents some challenges," Bishoff said.

The homestead exemption has allowed senior citizens ages 65 and older and permanently disabled Ohioans to reduce their property taxes by receiving a $25,000 property-tax exemption on the market value of their homes.

Gary Gudmundson, communications director for the Ohio Department of Taxation, told ThisWeek the homestead exemption has been available since the 1970s.

"All of that time, from the '70s to 2007, it was an exemption subject to a means test," Gudmundson said. "There was an income limit as to whether you qualified or not."

In 2007, the exemption was available to all senior citizens regardless of their income.

"That has been the case up until the passage of this budget," Gudmundson said. "The homestead is now subject to an income test. That's $30,000 or less.

"It's important to remember it's only applied to new applicants," he said. "Every senior citizen who has the exemption now will continue to get it. Just applicants who turn 65 after Jan. 1, 2014, will be subject to the means test."

Details of property-tax changes as a result of the new budget, including property-tax rollbacks, are online at tax.ohio.gov. Click on "new tax law changes here."

G-J Superintendent Francis Scruci said the homestead change creates another obstacle for the district when it comes to school funding.

"The toughest group to sell levies is our senior citizens," he said. "It will be a major concern of mine. I don't know how that's a positive thing. It seems it was slipped in at the last hour."

Scruci said he questions the rationale.

Gudmundson told ThisWeek the cost of the homestead exemption was $70 million in 2005 and that ballooned to $410 last year.

"If it continued without changing eligibility, it would cost $533 million by 2018," he said. "One of the justifications to returning to a means test is that the state budget can't absorb that kind of growth."

Bishoff, a former G-J board member, said she also is trying to understand the positive.

"They want to get back to local funding where you have local control," she said.

Scruci said he doesn't know how he could explain to the senior citizen who has lost the exemption.

"For future board members aspiring to join this board, good luck," he said. "You'll have an interesting challenge if elected. I'm a little miffed on what has happened."

Board member Dewitt Harrell asked who championed the homestead-exemption changes.

Bishoff said she isn't sure.

She said it's a paradigm shift.

"I'm trying to understand both sides," she said. "It's a tough place to be. I've heard from many superintendents in the 20th District."

Bishoff said the concerns of her former colleagues aren't falling on deaf ears, though.

"All of you need to bring your thoughts and suggestions," she said. "You are the voices of Gahanna-Jefferson."

Bishoff, who serves on the education committee, said committee members have an ongoing disagreement about what it takes to provide a consistent education for every student in Ohio.

"There's a divergence in what that means," she said. "They're trying a different take on what we've done."

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