Wednesday, January 21, 2015

10 days until business license renewal deadline

The deadline for businesses in Decatur to renew their business license for 2015 is January 31. Renewal invoices were mailed in November. You can renew in person at 509 North McDonough Street; by mail to P.O. Box 220, Decatur, GA 30031; or online through after clicking on Occupation Tax on the left side of the screen.

In addition to payment of the occupational tax, we may need some additional paperwork in order to renew a license. If the business owner is a U.S. citizen and has already filed a SAVE affidavit with Decatur, you are not required to re-file a SAVE affidavit during renewal. If the business has 10 or less employees and has already filed an E-Verify affidavit with Decatur, you are not required to re-file an E-Verify affidavit. Non-citizens need to file SAVE affidavits annually and businesses with over 10 employees need to file E-Verify numbers annually in order to renew their license.

If you received a renewal invoice but your business has moved or closed, please let us know so we can settle and close your account with our office.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Bills to watch in 2015

The Georgia General Assembly convenes today. Here’s a look at some of the proposals at the Gold Dome that could affect taxes locally or statewide if enacted:
  • Expansion of homestead exemptions in Decatur. The Decatur City Commission approved a proposal late last year to expand two existing homestead exemptions and add a new one. The next step would be for the General Assembly to pass it before a referendum that would take place later this year. 
  • DeKalb property tax freeze. Both Rep. Mike Jacobs (R-Brookhaven) and state Sen. Fran Millar (R-North DeKalb) said during their 2014 reelection campaigns that they intend to renew the real property tax freeze in DeKalb. The freeze reduces county tax bills for all DeKalb's homeowners by offsetting increases in their assessed value (even for homeowners in Decatur), but does not affect your city taxes. 
  • Decatur's proposed annexation. The Decatur City Commission has approved an annexation proposal in December and is looking for a legislative sponsor.  This would affect the property taxes of currently unincorporated residents if approved by the legislature and then by voters in a referendum later this year.
  • Property assessment reform.  During his reelection campaign, Sen. Millar promised "to enact true property tax assessment reform" during the 2015 session that would affect assessments statewide.  We may see a reintroduction of a bill along the lines of SB 293 that Millar proposed last year. 
  • Tax lien changes.  Newly elected state Rep. Beth Beskin (R-Buckhead) has proposed requiring certified notice before selling a property tax lien. Neither Decatur nor DeKalb sells liens, but the proposal would affect Fulton County which routinely transfers liens.
  • PILOT assessment reform.  A special study committee met during the legislative break to review payments-in-lieu-of-tax agreements and their affect on school funding. While they focused on administrative changes rather than new legislation, there could be some proposals stemming from the committee's hearings to provide for greater involvement and notification by tax assessors of PILOT values to school boards for budgeting purposes.
  • Tax credit changes.  There has been some discussion during the legislative break about changes to state tax credits (possibly including a reduction in the number of credits available but a continuation or even an expansion of the state entertainment/film tax credit).  There have also been two pre-filed bills that would affect state income taxes. HB 20 would extend the state income tax credit for low-income housing to any owner who owned it even for part of the tax year, and HB 35 would increase the amount of qualified education tax credits available.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Tax and payment news to watch in 2015

From a property tax standpoint in and around Decatur in 2015, I expect a lot of debate about the proposed annexation, the north DeKalb cityhood movements, and the impact that those changes will have on property tax bills of county residents who are currently unincorporated. If Decatur’s proposed annexation advances through the upcoming state legislative session, we would see a November 2015 referendum (plus a possible vote on expanding homestead exemptions in Decatur). Also, 2015 should be the last year that anybody sees a property tax charge from the State of Georgia on their tax bills—that small portion of your bill has been gradually phased out over the past four years, and this is the fifth and final year.

From a payment technology standpoint, I expect many more Decatur residents will take advantage of our relatively new online feature to pay taxes with an e-check with no convenience fee. Previously our only online option was making credit card payments with a convenience charge. Nationally, innovations and updated credit card security standards will change how payments are made and accepted in the U.S. including chip-and-PIN (EMV) and ApplePay technologies. Consumers will no longer swipe the magnetic strip of their credit cards at retail terminals, but rather insert their cards and key in a PIN number at locations where merchants have upgraded their hardware. IPhone 6 users will be able to make contactless payments at an increasing number of retailers. Consumers will see the most immediate impact of these changes at private sector locations, but these trends will eventually affect how citizens pay taxes and fees to local and state government agencies as well.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

What January 1 means for local taxes

With many local taxes—especially property taxes—everything significant hinges on January 1.  Here are a few things about this key date that homeowners and business owners should consider in order to understand tax liability for the new year.

Property taxpayers
Property assessments for 2015 conducted by DeKalb County will be based on the status of the property as of January 1. For example, new developments and improvements made prior to January 1 will be factored into 2015 assessments by DeKalb, but improvements made after January 1 would not. Properties annexed into Decatur in 2014 will be taxed by Decatur in 2015, but properties annexed in 2015 wouldn’t be taxed in Decatur until 2016.

If the status of your property has changed since last year, you should file a return with the DeKalb County assessors office between now and April 1. If you own or owned a business that closed in 2014 or moved out of Decatur or DeKalb, you should also notify the DeKalb County assessors office to ensure that you do not receive an assessment notice and tax bills from DeKalb and Decatur in 2015. If your business is open for the beginning of 2015 you will receive an assessment and tax bill for 2015 even if your business closes or moves later this year.

Property owners should also note what tax officials mean by “the first-of-the-year owner,” or the “January 1 owner.” DeKalb County records and their website show both the owner as of January 1 and the current owner if ownership changes later in the year. Many times, we are questioned about why a bill or a delinquent notice was sent to the January 1 owner rather than the current owner. Generally speaking, Decatur attempts to notify the current owner of bills that are owed. But there can be delays in reflecting current ownership information, and technically, the January 1 owner may be considered to be responsible for the taxes that year depending on the terms at closing, or at least be responsible for notifying the current owner of any bills that the January 1 owner received for the property.

Lastly, when you file your 2014 federal income taxes, if you will be itemizing deductions including local property taxes paid, you can claim payments actually made during calendar year 2014.  If you're paying your 2014 property taxes late (for example, if you pay your 2nd installment 2014 Decatur tax bill on Jan. 8, 2015), you can't deduct that on your 2014 income taxes.  But please consult a tax professional for further guidance on that.

Homestead exemption applicants
Qualifying for age-based homestead exemptions for your property taxes depends on the age of the homeowner as of January 1. If you turned 62, 65, 70, or 80 prior to today, you may have become eligible for one or more homestead exemptions offered by Decatur. Homestead exemptions can be applied for with the city between now and April 1, but preferably no later than March 16, 2015 to ensure that any new exemptions on your account appear on your 1st installment tax bill which will be mailed out by April 1. You should also check with DeKalb to determine whether you have become eligible for any additional exemptions with their office.

Occupation taxpayers
If your business has more than 10 employees as of today, you will need to file an E-Verify form with our office prior to the next renewal of your business license, because state law references the number of employees as of January 1, not as of the time you are renewing your license.

Also, Decatur’s occupation tax ordinance says that occupation taxes are payable by January 2 of each year but that the taxes are not considered delinquent until January 31, which is why the Revenue Division puts a January 31 deadline on business license renewal invoices.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Tax office schedule announcement

City Hall including the tax office will be closed on January 1-2. If you need information about taxes during this time period, please use our website at From there you can search, view, and pay property taxes with no convenience fee by electronic check, or by credit card with a convenience fee. Occupation taxes (business license fees) can also be paid from this website without a convenience fee.  Our office will re-open on Monday, January 5.  If you are attempting to pay taxes for the 2nd installment of 2014, please note that there is a payment grace period up through Jan. 8, 2015, during which time no penalties or interest will be added to past due accounts.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Your expiring business license

Business licenses in Decatur show an expiration date of Dec. 31, 2014. However, you have until January 31 to renew your license for 2015 without penalty. That being said, if you think you will need an unexpired business license (also known as an occupation tax certificate) during the month of January in order to obtain a business loan, business checking account, or to protect yourself in the event of legal claims by customers or employees, you may want to renew early.

Renewal notices/invoices were mailed in November. You can renew in person at 509 North McDonough Street; by mail to P.O. Box 220, Decatur, GA 30031; or online through after clicking on Occupation Tax on the left side of the screen.

Payment of the occupation tax may or may not be the only thing we need in order to renew your license.  Non-citizens need to file SAVE affidavits annually and businesses with over 10 employees need to file E-Verify numbers annually in order to renew their license.  Affidavits can be submitted with your paper renewal or can be uploaded if you're renewing online.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Reminder: lawyers' occupation taxes due by Dec. 31

Occupation taxes from attorneys practicing in Decatur are due by December 31 in accordance with City ordinance, Art. II, Sec. 22-26(b).  Our office will be open from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. on New Year's Eve.

Payment options:
Attorneys are encouraged to pay this $425 tax online. Our website allows for payments by Visa, MasterCard, Discover, American Express, PayPal, PayPal Credit, or electronic check. No additional fees are charged for paying online—just the principal amount. There is no registration or login process. Just go to, click on “Occupational Tax” on the left side, select 2014 as the year, and enter your name as it appears on your bill. Once you’ve accessed your record, click "Renew," enter some basic information, and you’ll see your options to pay.  You can also use this website to access a copy of your occupation tax certificate.

If you prefer, payments can be made in person at City Hall at 509 N. McDonough St. by cash, check, or credit card; or by mail to City of Decatur, PO Box 220, 30031. If paying by mail, please enclose the bottom portion of your invoice so we can apply your payment to the right record.

Authority to tax:
Barnes v. City of Atlanta holds that local occupation taxes on attorneys must be revenue measures only, not regulatory in nature. Decatur’s occupation tax ordinance expressly states that the occupation tax is levied “for revenue purposes only and is not for regulatory purposes” (Sec. 22-15).

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Tax office to re-open on Dec. 29

City Hall including the Decatur Revenue Division will be closed on Thursday, December 25 and Friday, December 26.  If you need information about taxes during the holiday, please use our website at From there you can search, view, and pay property taxes with no convenience fee by electronic check, or by credit card with a convenience fee. Occupation taxes (business license fees) can also be paid from this website without a convenience fee.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Tax payment grace period offered till Jan. 8

Decatur's due date for 2014 2nd installment real property taxes was today.  However, the City offers a payment grace period during which no penalties or interest apply to unpaid accounts.  The grace period this year will last until January 8, 2015.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Update on state university concessionaire tax exemptions

The Fulton County Daily Report reported last month that the state Board of Regents has signed a 65-year contract with Corvias, a student housing company, to provide almost 10,000 beds across nine state university campuses for an initial outlay of $517 million. The Daily Report quoted an attorney involved in the Board of Regents-Corvias deal as saying, “A lot of other university systems have been watching the Board of Regents' process, and we think it is going to be a model nationwide." The contract was awarded shortly after voters approved a referendum guaranteeing tax-exempt status for state university student parking and dormitories that are leased and managed by private companies.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Resolution passed to expand homestead exemptions

In a first step toward expanding two existing homestead exemptions and adding a new homestead exemption, the Decatur City Commission unanimously approved a resolution on Monday night to move the measure forward. The proposal stems from the City Commission’s desire to enact tax relief for residential property owners—particularly to senior residents on low or fixed incomes. The next step would be for the proposed exemption changes to be considered by the Georgia General Assembly to pass local legislation for an eventual referendum on the exemptions in 2015.

The proposal would increase the GH1 basic homestead exemption by exempting $25,000 in assessed value rather than the current $20,000 (which would save approximately $60 on resident homeowners’ tax bills annually assuming no change in property value or in the millage rates). Secondly, the GH2 (age 65) exemption amount of $1,000 would be increased to $10,000 (which would be a savings of an additional $100 per eligible taxpayer), and the addition of a GH3 exemption for homeowners over 62 with household income under $50,000 that would save about $175 per year.