Minutes - Fayette County Government
Board of Commissioners Minutes May 26, 2011 Page 4 exemptions at the federal, state, and local levels, and that by making those applications demonstrated she had visited with the Tax Commissioner in 2007. She claimed that she returned to the Tax Commissioner’s office again in 2009, was informed again that she did not qualify for tax exemption, and that she demanded the proper documentation. She noted that Tax Commissioner Wingo has agreed that she visited him in 2009 about tax exemptions. She said this demonstrated that if the Tax Commissioner was unwilling to provide documentation in 2009 it indicated he did not provide documentation in 2007. She summarized her case saying it really came down to whether or not she went to the Tax Commissioner in 2007 and whether or not she was provided the proper documentation to file for tax exemption. She claimed her documentation provided to the Board, and witnesses could verify her claim. County Attorney Scott Bennett replied on behalf of Fayette County. He explained that the exemption that Ms. Schwantes spoke about is covered in O.C.G.A. 48-5-48-.4 and that it says: “A person shall not receive the Homestead Exemption granted by subsection B of this code section unless the person or person’s agent files an affidavit with the Tax Commissioner of the county in which that person resides, giving such information relative to receiving such exemptions that will enable the Tax Commissioner to make a determination as to whether such person is entitled to such exemption.” He explained that the notion that there is no timeframe is inaccurate since the next part of the code reads: “The exemption shall be claimed and returned as provided in Code Section 48-5-50.1.” He said if you go to that code section it reads: “If the Homestead Exemption is from county taxes for county school taxes, it shall be claimed and returned as provided in Code sections 48-5- 45, 48-5-46, 48-5-49 and 48-5-50.” He said if you go to Code section 48-5-45 the code reads: “The failure to file properly the application and schedule on or before the date for the closing of the books for the return of taxes of a calendar year in which the taxes are due, shall constitute a waiver of the Homestead Exemption on the part of the applicant failing to make application for such exemption for that year.” Mr. Bennett explained that the Code requires an applicant to properly file an application in the year in which the tax exemption is being sought, and that it automatically renews just like a Homestead Exemption, but if an applicant does not file properly the tax exemption is waived for the year. He said the County knows no affidavit was filed, which is expressly required of the exemption, until the year 2011. He said the issue at hand is how does the County get around the language “shall not receive the Homestead absent an exemption.” He added that the applicant claims to have known all about this legislation as early as 2006 when it was going on the ballot, and that she presumably read the legislation and knew she had to file an affidavit. He said the Board of Assessors heard all the evidence and made the recommendation to deny the refund because of the lack of an affidavit and since it was not properly filed, which was the crux of the issue. He made a second point saying the applicant did not receive the normal Homestead Exemption until 2009, because the home was apparently in her husband’s name when he passed away. He said the County did not receive an application until 2009 for the normal Homestead Exemption, but no affidavit or application was received for the 100% Homestead Exemption. He said this opened questions about whether or not Ms. Schwantes would be eligible for exemption based on how here husband died. Mr. Bennett said he was asked to look into the question by Tax Commissioner Wingo and that he asked the Department of Revenue to provide direction on the issue. He reported that the Department of Revenue responded that it believed the death did qualify as being in the line of duty, and then Mr. Wingo informed Ms. Schwantes of the decision and asked her to apply for exemptions–which she did in 2011. He reiterated that the County’s position is that it did not have a completed application until 2011, that the application was applied for that year, and that he did not know how the County could get around the language in the code.
Board of Commissioners Minutes May 26, 2011 Page 5 Commissioner Brown made the following motion: It is an absolute fact Ms. Schwantes’ firefighter husband died in the line of duty and that Ms. Schwantes and her two children were determined eligible for the county exemption. That being said, the Fayette County Board of Commissioners has the authority to grant Ms. Schwantes the full exemption she is entitled to, so our hands are certainly not tied, and I move that the Board award the exemption dating back to 2007, recognizing her husband’s ultimate sacrifice, using the powers given to the Board of Commissioners to remedy such matters. Commissioner McCarty seconded the motion. Commissioner Brown then added he wanted to make a few comments on the matter and read the following into the record: Athena Schwantes facts 1. Ms. Schwantes’ husband was a firefighter. 2. Husband died in the line of duty as a firefighter. 3. Even though the Tax Commissioner and the County Attorney said told Ms. Schwantes she was ineligible for the exemption, it was later determined that she and children were, in fact, entitled to exemption. 4. Ms. Schwantes asked her neighbors to vote in favor of the referendum question for the exemption in question saying it would help her. The neighbors have confirmed this. 5. Ms. Schwantes asked for and received directions from the Firefighters’ Association in Atlanta in 2007 on how to file for the exemption with the county and showed documentation to that end. 6. The Tax Commissioner’s office has admitted they told Ms. Schwantes she did not qualify for the exemption; thus, they did not offer her the forms to complete. 7. Ms. Schwantes did file for the state and federal programs and was accepted based on the fact her husband did die in the line of duty. Conclusions I find it incredibly difficult to believe that a widow with two dependent children who asked her neighbors to vote for the exemption in a voter referendum and who needed financial assistance and who purposefully asked the Firefighters’ Association after the referendum passed in 2007 on how to apply for the exemption, that somehow, she waited until 2009 to want to file. I think the fact she pursued the state and federal exemptions was proof she was motivated to act on the local program that would provide her immediate financial relief.