Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Oconee Commission Chair Takes His Presentation About 10 Items On May 21 Ballot Dealing With Homestead Exemptions To GOP Meeting

***Discusses Benefits For Seniors***

Oconee County Commission Chair John Daniell took his informational campaign on the 10 items on the May 21 ballot designed to increase the homestead tax exemption and freeze assessments for seniors to the Oconee County Republican Party on Monday night.

Daniell has been working to explain the proposed changes to the public for more than a year now at a variety of settings, including at the quarterly Board of Commissioners Town Hall Meetings and at a session with Oconee County Democrats last month.

Daniell emphasized on Monday, as he has at all of those sessions, that voters who approve of the increased exemptions–and the resulting decreased property taxes–and the freezing of assessments to provide tax relief for seniors, have to vote Yes on each of the 10 ballot items.

If one of the 10 fails, homeowners and seniors will not receive the benefits, since the 10 items are interconnected, he said.

The Republic Party Program on Monday also included a review of the just completed legislative session by District 120 State Representative Houston Gaines and by District 121 State Representative Marcus Wiedower. Gaines and Wiedower, as well as Daniell, are Republicans whose names will be on the ballot on May 21.

The final presenter of the night was John Michael Grigsby, who is challenging Wiedower in the May 21 Republican Party Primary.

Grigsby took questions from the audience, but there was no back and forth with Wiedower once Grigsby made his comments.

Background On Ballot Items

“Over the years we’ve been approached by different members of our community to look at our senior tax exemptions,” Daniell told the 40 plus people at the meeting at the Piedmont Oconee Health Campus on Jennings Mill Road.


Daniell said the county has had exemptions in place, “and what we found is that those are problematic. Number one, you have to know about them...Then you have to come to the Tax Commissioner and apply for that.”

“You’ve got to come in, show your paperwork, and go through a lot of stuff to see if you qualify for any of those,” he continued.

“Some of the exemptions that we have in place now require auditing,” he said. “That is hit or miss, depending on how much time the Tax Commissioner has got to do that kind of stuff.”

Daniell said he and County Commissioner Amrey Harden, who was present at the meeting on Monday, met with Wiedower and Gaines and Tax Commissioner Jennifer Riddle “to review our existing exemptions and talk about the problems with those and then come up with some alternatives.”

Daniell said he next met with the Oconee County Board of Education because “The stuff we’re talking about applies to the Oconee County Board of Commissioners taxation as well as the Oconee County Board of Education.”

These changes took “10 acts of the legislature that translated into 10 questions on your ballot come May 21,” he said. “And all 10 of those questions must pass.”

“What passing means is you vote Yes for each one of those ballot questions,” Daniell said.

Summary Of Changes

Daniell said “we’re asking you to approve an additional $3,000 homestead exemption” on top of the existing state exemption of $2,000. “Then, in year 2035, that $5,000 will go to $10,000,” he said.

“What we’re doing for our seniors,” he said, “is on the Jan. 1 that you’re 65, you will receive an automatic, tax assessment freeze.”

“The January 1 that you are 75, we’re going to add another $10,000 homestead exemption to the exemption that you have already,” he said.

So in 2025, those who are 75 will get the $5,000 exemption plus an additional $10,000 exemption. In 2035, those who are 75 will get the $10,000 homestead exemption other property owners will receive plus the $10,000 extra.

For those homeowners who already have frozen their assessments under the current law, Daniell said, that assessment “will flow over into this new exemption. So nobody should be harmed by any of the changes that we’re talking about.”

The exemptions based on income that currently produce a $15,000 homestead exemption will be phased out, though those with the exemption will be able to keep it.

“What we found was that the $15,000 was about half the value of a true property assessment freeze,” Daniell said. Everyone 65 and over will get that freeze if voters approve the 10 ballot items.

Full Exemption

“We do have a full exemption that is income based, and that’s just going to phase out over time,” Daniell said. “If you have that exemption you will continue to get that exemption until you no longer qualify. But there will be no new applications for that process after Jan. 1, 2025.”

“A lot of people were missing that income” cap by small amounts, Daniell said.

“If you had applied for it, you might have made it,” he said. “And you get older and things change.”

“Other people move into the house, maybe to help you,” he said. “And then you technically are no longer qualified for that exemption.”

The computation is based on “total gross household income” of less than $59,184.

“The goal is to make at least one person better without hurting anybody,” Daniell said of the changes.

“I think we’ve done that with this,” he said. “That is one reason it took awhile. Figuring out all of these exemptions and how they work. What is the best way to address each one of them.”

Present Program Counts

Daniell was asked on Monday for the number of persons participating in the current programs, and he said he didn’t have the numbers before him.

According to Oconee County Tax Commissioner Jennifer Riddle, the total number of “homesteaded properties” in the county in 2023 was 9,276. (I had asked Riddle for these numbers last week.)

Of those, 7,173 were simply getting the $2,000 exemption currently set by the state as the minimum. Home owners only need to apply for this exemption when they purchase their home, and it continues as long as the owner occupies the home.

That state exemption will not be affected by the 10 ballot items, but the county will add $3,000 to the state exemption in 2025 and $8,000 in 2035, bringing the totals to $5,000 and $10,000 respectively if the 10 items pass.

The state also has other exemptions for Disabled Veterans and for those aged 62 and older with less than $10,000 income. The total number for the former is 121 and the latter is 62. These state exemption will not be affected by the local changes.

The county exemptions are added to those provided by the state.

The county had 39 homeowners aged 65 or older with a net income of less than $15,000, and 275 homeowners aged 65 or older with a total net income of the applicant and spouse of less than $10,000, according to Riddle.

These are covered by two of the local programs that will be ended, but those currently in the program will retain the exemption as long as they qualify.

At present, these home owners receive a $15,000 homestead exemption, and Daniell said that persons in those categories will gain more from the new programs than from the old ones.

Total Tax Waiver

In 2023 there were 653 homeowners who qualified for the local exemption program for those aged 65 and older with a total gross income of $59,184, according to Riddle. That figure has been adjusted over the years for inflation.

These homeowners pay no county or school property taxes.

In his comments at the Republican Party Meeting on Monday, Daniell said the Tax Commissioner does not have the resources to audit adequately the income-based exemptions.

Homeowners currently receiving this waiver of taxes would continue to do so as long as they qualify if the 10 ballot items pass, Daniell said.

The relevant ballot item says the county will “close the acceptance of new applicants” for this program.

Gaines And Wiedower

When Daniell finished his presentation on the ballot items, Republican Party Chair Kathy Hurley asked Gaines and Wiedower to come to the front of the room to review the completed 2024 legislative session.


Sen. Bill Cowsert had been invited as well, but he did not attend the meeting.

Cowsert represents all of Oconee County in the 46th Senate District. Gaines represents the Oconee County precincts of Bogart and Marswood Hall in the House District 120, and Wiedower represents the remaining six precincts in the county in House District 121.

Gaines led the presentation, and he said “We did have a good session because of so many things we passed this year.”

He said he wanted to focus on legislation addressing public safety, providing tax relief, funding education, and providing election security.

Wiedower added to the list legislation bills addressing medical issues.

Public Safety

Gaines said that he and Wiedower “have spent a lot of time trying to protect public safety in the community.”

Included was legislation to make the Prosecuting Attorney Qualifications Commission operable following a decision by the state Supreme Court putting implementation of the legislation passed in the 2023 session on hold.

Gaines also listed approval of Senate Bill 63, which expanded the number of offenses that require the posting of bail.

He also listed passage of House Bill 1105, which, he said, “requires local governments to comply with federal immigration authorities.”

“If you have an individual who has come into custody, law enforcement has to report that individual to federal immigration authorities,” he said.

“That might be the most important bill we passed this year,” Gaines said.

“I certainly agree,” Wiedower said.

“Our law enforcement agencies. They have been under attack for years,” he continued. “Fortunately, the economic times we have in Georgia, we’ve been able for the last two fiscal years, we’ve been able to raise the base salary at every one of our state law enforcement agencies, DNR, GSP, across the board, $9,000.”

DNR stands for Department of Natural Resources, and GSP is Georgia State Patrol.

Tax Relief

Gaines said the legislature “sped up the cuts in the state income tax” already approved and increased the child reduction credit from $3,000 to $4,000.

In addition, the legislators passed bills putting two referenda on the November ballot, he said.

The first asks votes if they want to “cap the increase in property tax assessments at the rate of inflation,” Gaines said. “That would insure that property tax assessments don’t grow beyond the rate of inflation.”

The second referendum would ask voters if they want to increase the minimum state homestead exemption from $2,000 to $4,000.

This additional $2,000 would be on top of the $3,000 included in the 10 items on the May 21 ballot, bringing the total to $7,000 in 2025 and $12,000 in 2035.


Gaines cited the $2,500 pay raise for teachers in the state budget as another accomplishment of the just completed legislative session.


In addition, he said, the state will issue school security grants of $45,000 “for every single physical school in the state.” The funding will be recurring, he said.

Wiedower said one of the important elements of the funding is that the local school districts will make decisions about how that money is to be spent.

“We passed school choice this year, something we’ve been working on for years,” Gaines said. “I think this is a really important measure. For the first time, we provide students another option.”

“We do have school systems across the state that have failing schools,” he said, and the grants will be for students in those schools.

“It maybe wasn’t everything we wanted,” Gaines said. “But it was a huge step for school choice in Georgia.”

Funding for a new medical school at the University of Georgia was “obviously a big win,” Wiedower said. “With the growth we’ve had in the state of Georgia, we need more doctors.”

Gaines said the funding will double the class size in Athens from 60 to 120 students each year, beginning in the fall of 2026.

Election Security, Medical Legislation, Driver Services

Gaines said that a number of election bills will be signed by Gov. Brian Kemp “in short order.”

Wiedower cited as an accomplishment the relaxing of the Certificate of Need requirements in the state and a $5000 tax credit for any physician who practices in rural Georgia.

Wiedower said “rural is defined as under 50,000 in population,” so Oconee County, with 43,588 residents, qualifies.

Wiedower said he was pleased with passage of the Foster Parents Bill of Rights.

Wiedower is Chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government, and he said “Part of this is getting down there...and bringing tax dollars back home.”

He said he was pleased that the Department of Driver Services and the Georgia State Patrol Office will from Athens to McNutt Creek Road south of SR 316 on land the county donated to the state for those facilities.

“It will be in Oconee County,” Wiedower said. “The new Driver Services facility will be in Oconee County.”

The facility will be in the Bogart Precinct, which is in Gaines’ District. Both Gaines and Wiedower also represent parts of Athens-Clarke County.

The existing facilities, which will be closed, are on U.S. 29, in House District 122, represented by Democrat Spencer Frye.

Grigsby Introduction

When Gaines and Wiedower had finished their legislative review, Hurley invited Grigsby to come to the front of the room to speak.


Grigbsy said he grew up “on the north end of Oconee," has three little boys, earned his nursing degree at Georgia College and State University, and followed that with an MBA in health care management and another master’s in nursing.

He became a family nurse practitioner, and then earned a doctorate in nursing. He now works for The Little Clinic, a subsidiary of Kroger, where he is regional clinical director.

“I’m new to politics,” he said, “but I’m not new to being up at the statehouse. I’m trying to fight for some things that need to get changed up there.”

Grigsby’s Platform

Gigsby said he has three things he wants to accomplish.

“My first thing I want to get done on my platform is I want to increase healthcare to many medical deserts that are located all over the state,” he said. “A lot of people just don’t have access to healthcare.”

“Nurse practitioners, physicians assistants all over Georgia can’t practice on their own because of a 1999 law that is place,” he said. “So I want to get up to the Capitol and get that law changed so that we can unleash the army of healthcare providers so that they can do some good in Oconee, do good in all of the counties all across Georgia.”

“The second thing I want to do is limit the terms for congressmen. I think sometimes congressmen and women get up to the state capitol just become yes or no votes. They quit becoming public servants and they just serve other special interests.”

Grigsby did misspeak and say “congressmen,” but obviously he was speaking of state legislators.

“My third thing is I want to put a task force together to try to go against these cyber criminals who are attacking not only our elderly but really everybody in Georgia,” he said.

“They are really getting a lot of money from our elderly, taking advantage of them. And they are getting a foothold,” Grigsby said. “We’ve got to do something now to fight these people.”

Questions From Audience

In response to a question on the likelihood of success of his plans to change that 1999 law restricting what nurse practitioners and physician assistants can do, Grigsby said the the Medical Association of Georgia “keeps us under their thumbs,” spending millions of dollars on lobbying.

“They have been fighting us for decades to keep us from getting more practice authority. And they continue to win. We have one lobbyist,” Grigsby said. “We lose every year at the statehouse. So I want to go up there and fight them a different way.”

Wiedower’s campaign finance records show that he received money from the Georgia Association Medical PAC, which is an affiliate of the Medical Association of Georgia. In 2021, he recorded a contribution of $1,000, and in 2022 he reported receiving $500.

Julie Mauck, who is administrator of the the Oconee County 411 (GA) Facebook Group, told Grigsby she was opposed online gambling, and noted that Wiedower and Cowsert had worked, unsuccessfully, to get online gambling approved in the most recent session of the General Assembly.

“I want to know how you feel about online gambling,” she said. “Are you going to make that your mission to get that passed?”

“If I am elected, I will not go in that bill,” Grigsby said. “I don’t agree with that bill. I don’t think the Hope Scholarship needs any more funds.”

“Online gambling would let our kids get access,” he continued. “I’m sure they put measures in it that there are going to be ways to prevent that, but kids are smarter than that. They’re going to figure out ways to do it.”

Hurley did not invite Wiedower to respond to Grigsby.

District Attorney Race

District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez is running unopposed on the Democratic Party Primary Ballot on May 21, and her name, along with that of Kalki Yalamanchili, who is seeking to oppose her in November as an Independent, came up at several points in the meeting on Monday.

A posting Gonzalez made was displayed on the screen at the front of the room at the very beginning of the session, leading Party Chair Hurley to say “we do not have a Republican in the hunt for this race.”

“And that is intentional on his part,” she said, referring to Yalamanchili, who was not at the meeting.

“You’re running in Clarke and you’re running in Oconee,” Hurley said about the Western Judicial Circuit, which encompasses the two counties. “In Oconee, you could run as a Republican,” she said. “In Clarke, probably not so much.”

Hurley said Yalamanchili “has made a lot of headway” in getting the required signatures to have his name on the November ballot. “I’m told the signature petitions is nearly finished,” she said.

“But, if you haven’t signed it, or you think your neighbors haven’t signed it,” she said. “Let us know and we’ll get you one so you can take it and go around with it.”

Gaines, when he was talking about the Prosecuting Attorney Qualifications Commission, said “It’s horrible what’s happening in the District Attorney’s Office. Everything from lack of prosecution to mass resignations in that office.”

“There’s obviously tons of contested races in this county,” Wiedower said. “I guarantee you that both of us would give up our seats if we could get her beat. It is the most important race we have in our community.”

“I keep signature sheets on me at all times,” he said. “So if anybody new that I come across, I ask them if they’ve signed a petition to get Kalki on the ballot. There is nothing more important than getting her beat.”


I did attend the meeting of the Oconee County Republican Party on Monday.

The Party does not allow video recording of its meetings.

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