Friday, July 29, 2016

Georgia sales tax holiday this weekend

Just in time for back-to-school shopping, many items on sale this weekend in Georgia will be exempt from sales taxes. From July 30 to 31, most clothing, computer equipment, and school supplies will be tax-exempt. The clothing exemption applies to merchandise under $100 per item including clothes, accessories, diapers and athletic gear; the technology exemption applies to computers and computer components under $1,000; and the school supply exemption applies to products under $20 per item. For details and a fuller listing of non-taxable and taxable items, see the Georgia Department of Revenue’s fact sheet here.

In Decatur and DeKalb County, this holiday means a potential savings of 7 percent on eligible purchases.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Irvin Johnson wins tax commissioner runoff

Irvin Johnson, who is currently serving as DeKalb County's tax commissioner, won a special non-partisan runoff election on Tuesday to fill the duration of the current term vacated by previous tax commissioner Claudia Lawson.  Mr. Johnson also won the Democratic primary nomination for the upcoming four-year term.  Because he has no Republican opposition, he will retain the office.  The  The Champion has an article on his victory:
Johnson retains tax commissioner's office 
Interim tax commissioner Irvin Johnson retained his seat as the county’s highest paid official on July 26 during a run-off election.
Johnson received 62.2 percent of the vote with all precincts reporting whereas Susannah Scott received 37.8 percent.
“It feels great,” Johnson said Tuesday night. “Now it’s time to move on and continue doing the work of the tax commissioner and tax office. I thank my constituents for their votes and good race.”
Johnson congratulated his opponent, Scott, for a good and clean contest.
Johnson ran a campaign promising continued innovation and ease at the tax commissioner’s office, touting his accomplishments in the form of self-serving kiosks and public tax bill seminar sessions. Johnson also credits his 15 years of experience at the tax commissioner’s office and serving as his predecessor’s top deputy.
Scott ran her campaign with the promise of extending tax office hours for the ease of potential constituents. She admitted the tax commissioner’s office was one of the best run offices in the county and promised to continued that tradition.
“Irvin Johnson is absolutely the best choice to lead a staff of excellent public servants dedicated to doing the right thing for all taxpayers in DeKalb County,” said Claudia Lawson, former DeKalb County tax commissioner and boss to Johnson. “I inherited this tradition of customer service excellence from my predecessors Eugene E. Adams and Tom Scott and I’m confident that Irvin will honor that tradition.”

Duties of tax commissioners include preparation of digests, collection of taxes, and issuance of liens for delinquent taxes. The DeKalb County tax commissioner collects property taxes in unincorporated DeKalb and in DeKalb's cities. The City of Decatur collects its own real and personal property taxes, but relies on DeKalb for services such as digest preparation and motor vehicle tax transfers.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

School superintendent recommends steady millage rate

The superintendent and staff of the City Schools of Decatur have made a recommendation to the board of education to maintain the school system's property tax rate of 18.66 mills.  A copy of the presentation appears below, which includes a chart showing changes in the school millage rate over the past 15 years on slide 5.

Taken together with the City's reduction in its general millage rate for operations, the total millage rate for Decatur taxpayers is decreasing for 2016; however, rising property values in 2016 will cause many bills to be higher than in 2015.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Tax commissioner candidates to appear at final forum

Candidates for DeKalb County tax commissioner will face-off during a forum on Tuesday, July 19, at 6:30 p.m. at the Mainstreet Community Clubhouse at 5001 Mainstreet Park Drive in Stone Mountain. Irvin Johnson and Susannah Scott will be on the ballot for a July 26, 2016, runoff election after finishing as the top two vote getters in last month’s primary election. This will probably be the last chance for voters to hear from both of the candidates together before the runoff. The forum is being hosted by the Mainstreet Community Association.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

DeKalb deadline to appeal value is July 18

Property owners in DeKalb County, Georgia, received a notice early last month showing their property assessment for 2016. Owners who intend to appeal the assessment must appeal within 45 days, which will end on July 18.  The deadline applies to county residents and residents of cities in DeKalb, including Decatur.

If you did not receive or lost your notice, I recommend that you go to DeKalb’s website. From, click on “Real Estate Data,” search for your property, and once your record comes up, and click under the “Assessment Notice” area to see a PDF of your 2016 assessment notice.

An owner whose property has been overvalued and who has evidence to support an appeal, such as lower values of comparable properties, may want to consider appealing their assessment. DeKalb’s website allows for electronic filing of appeals.

To reach the DeKalb tax assessor/property appraisal department, call 404-371-0841. For filing an appeal in person, go to 1300 Commerce Drive in the Maloof Annex. They will have a high volume of calls and foot traffic on Monday.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Metro jurisdictions consider decreases or no changes to tax rates

Most of the major jurisdictions in metro Atlanta have adopted or are considering to adopt millage rates that are either the same or slightly lower in 2016 compared to 2015:

Atlanta:  Net decrease
Cobb Board of Education:  Increase
Cobb County:  Decrease
Decatur: Decrease
Decatur Board of Education: No change
DeKalb Board of Education:  No change
DeKalb County:  Decrease
Fulton Board of Education:  No change
Gwinnett Board of Education:  No change
Gwinnett County:  Decrease
Marietta:  Decrease
Marietta Board of Education:  No change

Most of the proposed decreases in millage rates will be offset because property values are on the rise throughout the area.  However, Gwinnett County is considering a decrease in the millage rate large enough to offset their rising values.

Overall, city and county governments appear likelier to approve a millage rate decrease this year, while the school systems intend to keep their millage rates steady.  One exception is the Cobb County board of education, which is considering an increase.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Metro property values on the rise

The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that property assessments have increased between 7 to 11 percent in four of the larger counties in metro Atlanta for 2016 compared to last year. The assessments are a lagging indicator of a rebounding real estate market. Property owners whose assessments exceed fair market value may want to consider appealing if they have evidence (such as factual corrections to the property characteristics or lower values of comparable properties) to support their appeal. 
Metro Atlanta tax assessments jump, giving residents a jolt 
Gina and Michael Schwartz got a nasty surprise when their DeKalb County tax assessment arrived in the mail recently. According to the county assessor’s office, the value of their Brookhaven home rose 10 percent from last year to $318,300, though they’ve made no improvements and don’t think that’s what the market will bear. Now they’re worried about the property tax bill that will come this fall. 
“It’s unfair,” Gina Schwartz complained at a recent meeting that detailed how to appeal assessments. “Why are we paying bigger taxes when nothing changed? That’s a big jump. I don’t want to pay more money.”
The Schwartzes are among tens of thousands of metro Atlanta homeowners learning their tax assessments increased this year, which could mean paying more when property taxes are due.
In four of the five largest metro counties, the total taxable value of residential property is up 7 percent to 11 percent, a review by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found. Some properties are up much more. The exception was Fulton County, where residential values rose just 2.6 percent. The increase for individual properties varies widely.
County appraisers say the assessments reflect a resurgent real estate market that has shaken off the Great Recession. If sales prices rise, so do tax values, they say. Even some professionals who specialize in appealing tax assessments say many taxpayers will have to adjust to new market realities.
Each year, county assessors must determine the value of tens or hundreds of thousands of properties for tax purposes, using real estate sales data and statistical methods. Those values — along with tax rates set by elected officials — determine the size of annual property tax bills.
In the wake of the Great Recession, a series of AJC investigations found typical tax assessments were too high — assessors failed to cut values fast enough to keep up with the plummeting real estate market.
But as the market recovered, the AJC found typical assessments in many areas were too low, reflecting the reality that tax assessments usually lag behind market trends.
Calvin Hicks, DeKalb’s chief appraiser, said his goal is for assessments to match prices that properties would fetch on the open market. He said residents should understand that rising assessments are driven by actual sale prices, not by a need to fatten the county government’s tax base.
“Our primary charge is to value properties and keep those values in line with whatever the market has done,” Hicks said Many individual properties may still be overvalued, and homeowners can appeal their assessments…
Read the rest of the AJC's report here.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Gwinnett uses senior exemptions to woo retirees

An article entitled “10 reasons why you should retire in Gwinnett County” recently appeared in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. It listed the number one reason to retire in Gwinnett as a homestead exemption from school taxes for seniors, saying:
1. Gwinnett has several exemptions for property taxes, including two for seniors, county communications director Joe Sorenson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
  • The Senior School Tax Exemption (L5A) provides seniors ages 65 and older a 100 percent exemption from taxes levied by the Gwinnett County Board of Education on your home and up to one acre of property.
  • The Regular School Tax Exemption (S3) provides seniors ages 62 and older a partial exemption from school taxes. 
Although the article doesn't mention it, Gwinnett's website says there are income restrictions to qualify for their two senior exemptions.

Voters in Decatur will have the chance to decide in November whether there should be an exemption here (similar to Gwinnett's L5A), which would exempt homeowners over the age of 65 for at least the next five years.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

State agencies not immune in property tax lawsuit

Last December, property owners on Sapelo Island sued McIntosh County and the State of Georgia for discrimination and neglect. The lawsuit is based largely on the allegation that the Geechee property owners are paying county property taxes based on soaring assessments without receiving services in exchange. The State of Georgia requested that the state be dropped from the lawsuit, partly on grounds of sovereign immunity. A federal judge recently ruled that most of Georgia's agencies, including the Department of Natural Resources, are not immune from being sued.

The news comes from the Associated Press:
Key Georgia Agencies Not Immune in Slave Descendant Lawsuit
By Russ Bynum
Associated Press SAVANNAH, Ga. — Jun 22, 2016, 5:18 PM ET
A federal judge ruled that key Georgia agencies are not immune from a lawsuit that claims one of the last Gullah-Geechee communities of slave descendants on the Southeast coast is being eroded by discrimination and neglect.
Residents and landowners from the tiny Hogg Hummock community on remote Sapelo Island sued the state and McIntosh County last December in U.S. District Court. The lawsuit says the enclave of about 50 black residents is shrinking rapidly as landowners are pressured to sell because they pay high property taxes yet receive few basic services...
Reachable only by boat from the mainland, the largely undeveloped barrier island about 60 miles south of Savannah has no schools, police, fire department or trash collection.
Attorneys for the state asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit. They argued the Department of Natural Resources, which manages most of Sapelo Island, and other agencies are immune under the 11th Amendment, which grants states broad protection from lawsuits in federal court.
In a ruling last Friday, Judge Lisa Godbey Wood in Brunswick granted immunity to just one agency — the Sapelo Island Heritage Authority — and ordered that it be dropped from the lawsuit. Other defendants including the Department of Natural Resources, Gov. Nathan Deal, McIntosh County, county Sheriff Stephen Jessup and the county Board of Tax Assessors still face civil claims.
However, the judge declared both the sheriff and the tax assessors immune from monetary damages in the case.
Wood is still considering other arguments for dismissal that are not related to immunity.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Walker County shows how tax anticipation notes work

While Decatur sends out tax bills every six months, most tax jurisdictions in Georgia send out bills once a year. For many cities and counties, that means a surge of revenues once a year and decreased cash flow during other months. To deal with this, some local governments rely on tax anticipation notes. This recent article about Walker County illustrate how TANs work in Georgia: 
Walker County borrows to pay bills: Tax anticipation notes commonly used as a budgeting tool
It sounds worse than it is.
The county is borrowing up to $5 million to cover operating expenses. But taking out a tax anticipation loan is something often used by county governments across Georgia as a way to match expenditures with revenue.
“Nearly all counties operate with tax anticipation notes,” Walker County Tax Commissioner Carolyn Walker said. “That is mainly because taxes are collected in the last three months, October through December. That is normal.
Walker said the county’s primary source of revenue is derived from taxing property. Until state law changed a few years ago automobile sales boosted collections. But now, the tax commissioner said no ad valorum tax is collected annually and the county receives just a portion of the 7 percent on the purchase price.
“That’s all,” Walker said. “Except for $1-per-tag collected from license plates.
“This year, by the end of December we had 96 percent of the (property tax) money collected and disbursed.”
During her June 9 public meeting, Commissioner Bebe Heiskell signed documents to obtain a line of credit — up to $5 million of temporary financing —that will be repaid with taxes receipts that are due before year’s end. #The county has assets valued at $107 million and projects collecting about $27 million in taxes for 2016, she said. “We’ll draw it down as needed, and I hope we don’t need it all,” she said. “This is to pay for the county’s business.”
By law, counties cannot borrow more than 75 percent of the total gross amount, including special purpose local option taxes (LOST, SPLOST, ESPLOST), collected in the previous calendar year. The amount borrowed must be repaid in full, with interest, before the end of the calendar year. #Walker County’s recent TAN carries an annual interest of 4.25 percent, payable on the amounts actually borrowed.
Heiskell noted that this year’s loan will be less than half of that required for 2015, the year when Walker County was forced to repay a loan guarantee for operations at the bankrupt Hutcheson hospital.
In Rome, similar tax anticipation notes — slightly more than $6 million worth — were issued last month to cover costs of operating schools. It is something done nearly every year during the summer months and the TANs are repaid when property taxes, due in mid-November, are paid.
Counties use TANs to even out revenue collections during the course of a year. The process is similar to utility companies allowing customers to make equal monthly payments based on historical usage, something that allows predictable budgeting over the course of a year.
“This is operating money for the months when we don’t have a lot of money coming in,” Walker said.
Catoosa County Chief Financial Officer Carl Henson said use of anticipation notes is not at all uncommon.
“It’s just something to use until you collect taxes,” he said.
Henson said that the low period for collecting revenue, from September to December, is often times when county governments will either borrow money or arrange for lines of credit.
“It (TANs) was developed to meet a need,” he said.
Since it is such a regular occurrence, a lot of counties do not put out requests for bids but will just go to their local bank every year obtain these letters of credit that allow them to meet payrolls and pay bills, Henson said.
And there are strict regulations about how such notes can be issued, used and repaid.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Decatur adopts millage rate for 2016

The City Commission approved millage rates for 2016 during its meeting Monday night. The general fund millage rate is decreasing from 9.7 mills in 2015 to 9.3 mills in 2016. The other millage rates for city taxes are the same as they were for the 1st installment property tax billing of 2016.  The rates are shown below:

General fund (operations):  9.3 mills
Capital improvements:  1.0 mills
Downtown Development Authority:  0.38 mills
Bond service:  0.92 mills
Bond (school) service:  1.57 mills

Although the general fund millage rate is decreasing, a tax increase was advertised under the requirements of Georgia law because rising assessments are projected to offset the lower tax rate. The city property tax bill (for a property that didn’t change in value since last year) would decrease by about $40 per $100,000 in assessed value because of the lower rate. For example, the bill for a property assessed at $200,000 ($400,000 fair market value) would decrease by $80 if there were no change in value since last year.

The school millage rate remains to be determined by the school board. Last year the school rate was 18.66 mills.