Friday, March 27, 2015

Proposal to extend property value freeze advances

The Georgia House of Representatives approved HB 596 yesterday which allows for a referendum to extend the property tax freeze in DeKalb County up through 2021. The bill now heads to the state Senate where Sen. Fran Millar says he’s already been promised support for the measure by fellow DeKalb legislators.

The freeze doesn’t actually prevent property values from increasing, but it offsets increases in property values by exempting the value by which the property has increased. The freeze applies to county property taxes. Homeowners can apply for the freeze when they apply for their DeKalb County homestead exemption. The DeKalb freeze can save taxpayers money even if they live within the city limits of Decatur by potentially reducing their county property tax bill.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Equalized HOST bill passes Georgia Senate

State lawmakers have approved House Bill 215 which would allow for a referendum on increasing the sales tax by 1 percent in DeKalb County. If approved by voters, the existing homestead option sales tax (HOST), which mostly provides property tax relief but also generates revenue for infrastructure improvements in DeKalb and its cities, would be reconfigured solely to provide property tax relief to homeowners. The new, additional penny sales tax would be dedicated to infrastructure improvements in DeKalb.

Contrary to an earlier report in the news that indicated that taxes for a home in Decatur would decrease by $625 under the proposal, the equalized HOST would probably save homeowners in Decatur about $20 in 2016 on their county property tax bill compared to 2014.

HB 215 now returns to the Georgia House for final approval before heading to the governor’s desk for signature. The bill is almost certain to pass since an earlier version of the bill was already approved by the House earlier this month.

The bill passed the Senate unanimously including an aye vote from Sen. Elena Parent, who represents Decatur and large swaths of DeKalb County. However, Sen. Parent voted against an earlier motion to engross the bill, meaning that she supported the ability of senators to propose amendments from the floor before the final vote. It is not clear what amendments may have been proposed if amendments had been allowed.

Monday, March 23, 2015

10 days left to reduce your business inventory tax liability for 2015

Businesses are required to file a return annually with the DeKalb County assessor’s office by April 1. Businesses that fail to file are assessed a 10 percent penalty that will increase your tax bill with DeKalb County and the City of Decatur for 2015. Failing to file will also result in DeKalb determining a value for you for 2015 rather than accepting your stated value.

Your return (also known as a “PT50”) should list your business’s property including inventory, equipment, furniture, machinery, fixtures, computers, and other assets. This type of property is known as “personal property.” If your property is worth less than $7,500, you should still file a return, but no personal property taxes are levied.

Personal property tax is different from real property taxes which are taxes on buildings and land. It is also different from occupational taxes which are for business licenses. It is also separate from income taxes, but many accountants or tax professionals who prepare income tax returns for businesses may also notify DeKalb of your business property value on your behalf.

The deadline to apply for a Freeport exemption with DeKalb County (which is like a homestead exemption but for businesses’ personal property) is also April 1. Please visit DeKalb’s website or call them at 404-371-2000 for instructions of filing your return, information on filing for DeKalb’s Freeport exemption, or to notify DeKalb if your business has closed or moved. Taking a moment now to focus on your personal property could help reduce the personal property tax bills that you’ll receive from DeKalb and Decatur later this fall.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Clean sweep for sales tax proponents

Local option sales taxes were extended or renewed in four North Georgia counties in yesterday’s election. Majorities of over 80 percent supported 1-percent sales taxes for education in Dawson and White County. Over 60 percent of voters supported penny sales taxes for public safety and infrastructure improvements in Hall and Whitfield County. A bond proposal in the City of Atlanta also passed with 88 percent voting yes.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

North Georgia counties vote on sales taxes

Today was election day in Dawson, Hall, and Whitfield County.  Voters there considered local option sales tax proposals.  11 Alive has a summary of the ballot measures:
Dawson County: ELOST
The 1% local option sales tax would raise $36.5 million for the Dawson County School District. They'd use the money to renovate old schools, buy buses, and build a performing arts center for Dawson County High School.
Hall County: SPLOST
The 1% SPLOST would last 5 years and raise $158 million to cover a long list of county projects including acquiring ambulances, upgrading the 911 system, renovating the library, expanding the landfill, and buying public safety vehicles.
Whitfield County: SPLOST
The 1% SPLOST would last four years and raise $63.6 million. The money would purchase fire-fighting turnout gear, breathing equipment, fire trucks, and patrol vehicles. It also includes money for building out the library, storm water system, and Tunnel Hill Depot restoration.
The City of Atlanta also had a bond referendum today, but it would not affect Atlanta's sales tax rate at this time.  Only 5 percent of Atlanta's precincts have reported results at the time of this posting.

Tax legislation that survived crossover day

At least 20 bills involving taxes stand a chance at passing during the 2015 session of the Georgia General Assembly. Another 30 tax measures failed to pass at least one chamber of the Assembly before last Friday’s “crossover” deadline. The viable bills deal with electronic notices of taxes due (HB 49), assessment and appeal procedures (HB 202), changes to the homestead option sales tax (HB 215), the postponement of tax and filing deadlines if those deadlines fall on a Federal Reserve holiday, and several changes to what is considered to be exempt from sales tax.

Revenue bills that didn’t survive include HB 68 which would have prohibited mailing tax bills for less than $5, SB 97 which spelled out additional requirements for tax officials before they could set or transfer liens for delinquent property taxes, and HB 265 which would have reduced the interest rate charged against delinquent tax amounts.

Local legislation such as annexation or local homestead exemption legislation aren’t subject to the crossover deadline and could still pass this session. Bills that don’t pass during this session could be reconsidered during 2016.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Billing ordinance adopted for 2015

The City Commission has approved Decatur’s property tax due dates and grace periods for 2015. Decatur will bill in two installments as usual. The first installment will be due by June 1 with a grace period up through June 15. The second installment will be due by Dec. 21 with a grace period through Jan. 7, 2016. The Revenue Division will send the bills out 60 days before the bills are due. The City Commission also approved the sanitation (solid waste) pick-up rates for 2015. A single-family home will owe $240 for the year for sanitation compared to $237 in 2014. Motions to adopt the due dates and sanitation rates carried unanimously.

Decatur’s first installment bills are based on the prior year’s property values, millage rates, and homestead exemption amounts. DeKalb will send us new values for 2015 this summer. Those new values, along with any changes to Decatur’s millage rates, will be used to calculate the final, total year’s bill during the second installment billing.

Last call for new property owners

If you purchased a property in Decatur anytime between the fall of 2014 to the present, or you have had a change of mailing address during that time period, I would encourage you to review your property record on the DeKalb County website. If they are not showing a record of your purchase or your current mailing address, please contact the DeKalb assessors office at 404-371-0841 to update their records. Please also let us know at the City of Decatur Revenue Division at 404-370-4100. Decatur will send out first installment property tax bills on or before April 1. If we do not have current ownership or mailing address information, your bill may go to the prior owner.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Free income tax assistance in Decatur through April 15

The AARP Tax-Aide program provides free federal and state income tax preparation services at the Decatur Recreation Center at 231 Sycamore Street in Decatur on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m up through April 15.  The main focus of Tax-Aide is providing tax assistance to seniors in Decatur and DeKalb County, but other taxpayers with straightforward returns are welcome as well.  Please bring your social security card, photo ID, any tax or income documents you have for 2014, and a copy of your 2013 tax return.  For more information about Tax-Aide and a list of other tax sites in DeKalb, to to the AARP's webpage here.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Bill aims to have HOST in Cobb County

Cobb County officials are interested in offering some property tax relief to be offset by an increase in their sales tax. Their proposal would resemble DeKalb County’s existing homestead option sales tax which primarily provides for property tax relief but also allows for some of the sales tax revenue to go toward infrastructure improvements. Rep. John Carson (R-Marietta) is sponsoring the proposal, which is being called an "alternative HOST," through HB 548.  The bill, which was just introduced last week, probably faces an uphill climb to get passed this year given how late we are into this legislative session.

At this point it seems like the Cobb County proposal more closely resembles DeKalb’s older/existing HOST model, rather than the DeKalb legislators’ newly proposed “equalized HOST” model that’s being considered through HB 215. DeKalb County and Rockdale County are the only counties currently administering a HOST.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Equalized HOST passes State House

But take figures cited with a grain of salt

The Georgia House of Representatives has passed HB 215 on Monday by a vote of 128 to 35. HB 215 would increase sales taxes in DeKalb County by one percent to fund infrastructure improvements. The bill would adjust a portion of existing sales taxes to go toward property tax relief for homeowners (but not for commercial properties, rental properties, land lots, etc.) The nay votes were all from Republicans.

The Atlanta Journal reports:
“Residents in the cities will see a significant property tax reduction,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mike Jacobs, R-Brookhaven. “All of DeKalb’s legislators — Republican and Democrat; north, south, east and west — agreed this is how we’re going to address deficiencies of how HOST is allocated.”
For example, property taxes would decrease by $625 on a $300,000 home in Decatur, Jacobs said. On a $500,000 Decatur home, property taxes would drop $1,065. 

There may be some miscommunication about the jurisdictions and numbers cited. Decatur homeowners should be aware that the HOST will not affect your city property tax bill. The HOST would only affect the tax bill you pay to DeKalb County. In 2014, a $300,000 home in in Decatur with the homestead exemption and HOST credit on their county tax bill would have paid $458 in property taxes to DeKalb. A decrease of $625 on a $458 tax bill is not possible. The HOST credit on the county tax bill for a $300,000 home in Decatur was about $605 in 2014. Rep. Jacobs or the AJC may have meant to say that the new HOST credit amount would be would be $625 for a home in Decatur, which would be a savings of $20 compared to last year.