ROSWELL, Ga. — The race for Roswell City Council’s Post 2 seat grew even more heated last week when charges surfaced that incumbent Councilman Michael Palermo had received homestead exemptions on two homes he owns in the city.
The revelation comes amid one of the most contentious races in the city this year. Palermo is facing a challenge from Geoff Smith, a local mortgage banker.
While barbs traded in campaigns is nothing unusual, the Post 2 race has seen more than most. In all, three council seats are being contested this year.
The homestead exemption charge has garnered more attention because, as a member of the City Council, Palermo helps set the local property tax rate. Homestead exemptions, awarded through the city, the school district and the county, entitle homeowners to a lower tax assessment. By law, a homeowner can claim a homestead exemption on only one property, the one in which they live.
Palermo said the mistake can be traced back to 2017, when he moved into a new home.
“Since they were both in Fulton County, I figured that my homestead exemption would be moved from my old home to my new home,” he said.
Palermo said he takes responsibility for the error and that he called Fulton County the minute he learned of the discrepancy.
The homestead exemption form for the new residence does include a box asking whether the owner is claiming any other homestead exemption. That box was left unchecked on Palermo’s application.
“For that, I really have no idea why,” Palermo said. “I have no idea if I just missed it, was confused by it or what. I truly have no idea. Obviously, it should have been checked. I see that now.”
He said he wishes Fulton County had caught the error and simply not processed the form.
Palermo said he has not been informed yet how much he will owe in back taxes on his first house.
“Any back taxes I owe, I want to make sure and pay them immediately,” he said. “I’ve provided Fulton County with all that is needed to get this corrected.”
The Post 2 campaign has seen an array of charges from both camps. During an Oct. 3 campaign forum at the Roswell Cultural Arts Center, both candidates wandered away from answering moderators’ questions to level accusations against one another. The key issue is which candidate has been or will be more open to high-density housing in the city.
For his part, Smith has recently been held to account for a newsletter he posted four years ago when he lambasted local voters for electing a millennial and a person he claimed could barely speak English to the City Council.
Smith said the intent of the comment wasn't to disparage at all.
“The phrasing was wrong on my part and I have since apologized to anyone offended,” he said. “And I meant it.”
Smith added that with his years of volunteering at a school where 90 percent of the students use English-as-a-second-language, no one in the council race has done more for the Hispanic community than he has.