In response to a Sandy Springs resident's complaints that his Fulton County senior citizen homestead exemptions were taken away for no legitimate reason, the county responded by saying it had to do with income mandates.

A.W. Busby, a retired aviation insurance broker, has received Fulton senior citizen homestead exemptions since 2001, when he turned 70 and became eligible for them. But that changed last fall when he got his 2018 Fulton property tax bill, which was $5,948.08. That amount was nearly double the $2,337.73 he paid for the 2017 bill.

When Busby first called the county about the issue in September, days after he first received his bill, a representative asked if he’d filled out a questionnaire that was supposed to be mailed to him. He said he never received it, and when he finally got one from the county’s North Service Center in Sandy Springs, it only had questions about where he lived and how long he’d lived there and none about senior citizen homestead exemptions.

“It’s a concern that’s unethical, if not illegal,” Busby said.

Jessica Corbitt-Dominguez, a county spokeswoman, clarified that income is tied to the county's old senior citizen homestead exemptions but the new ones will not be.

"Until this year ALL senior homestead exemptions in Fulton County had income requirements," she said. "In November 2018, voters approved the first Fulton County senior homestead exemption that was not also income based. That new senior exemption will go into effect for the first time for 2019 assessments and applies to (the) Fulton County portion of taxes only. ...

"The income limits for each exemption very specifically look at income based on how that is reported on the individual’s Georgia or federal tax returns (note that different exemptions have different requirements)."

After Busby had previously blamed Fulton Tax Commissioner Arthur Ferdinand for his problem, Corbitt-Dominguez had one other point of clarification.

"The tax commissioner does not have a role in changing anyone's homestead exemption," she said. "That is handled by the tax assessor's office."

Busby said he didn't have any new income in 2017 that would affect his 2018 bill, and derives all of his income annually from an IRA retirement account that he started withdrawing from in 2001.

He also said said the county offered to reinstate his exemptions for 2018 only after he filled out a new property tax form that included his revised income for 2018, but the bill was only reduced to $5,399.19.

“I’m concerned about the other guys,” Busby said, adding he doesn’t want other residents to have the same problems he’s had. “I want to put as much on (the county tax assessor’s office’s) plate as I can.”

In response to Fulton's clarified response regarding his homestead exemptions, Busby said, "They're being devious just like they were when they deleted the exemptions. ... It's the difference between right and wrong. Even if they reinstate my exemptions, it's just for one year and the new exceptions would apply (starting this year). I take that as an effort for them to buy me off, even if they would reinstate it now because they're wronging (county) residents."

For more information on Fulton's homestead exemptions, visit www.fultonassessor.org/exemptions.

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