Tuesday, May 26, 2015

2015 millage rate recommended to City Commission

During last week’s City Commission meeting, Assistant City Manager Andrea Arnold presented a proposed budget and City millage rates for 2015.  The millage rate proposal is for a 1 mill reduction.  This would be the result of a half mill reduction in the general fund millage rate and a half mill decrease in the bond millage rate.

However, the proposed tax rate reduction does not necessarily mean that your property taxes will decrease in 2015 compared to 2014.  There are a few other factors that could affect your bill.  1)  The school system has not recommended a school millage rate yet, which affects for about three-fifths of the tax liability for most Decatur property owners.  2)  Your property value this year could increase based on the determination of the DeKalb County property assessor’s office.  Summary reports from DeKalb indicate 15 percent growth in property values in Decatur due to revaluation, and 5 percent new growth.

The projected digest growth means that total property taxes paid to Decatur for tax year 2015 will exceed taxes collected for tax year 2014.  Due to state law, the City is required to advertise the proposed millage rate reduction as a 5 percent tax increase once the overall digest growth is factored in.  For more information, take a look at the tax rate announcement on the City’s webpage here.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

If paying by e-check, please remit by tomorrow

If you are planning to pay your first installment Decatur property tax bill with an electronic check on our website at www.decaturgatax.com, I encourage you to make your payment today or tomorrow. Like paper checks, e-checks can take three to five business days to clear the bank. It's not an immediate debit. With Memorial Day coming up on Monday, that will further lengthen the amount of time it could take for your e-check to clear. Our formal payment deadline this installment is June 1, 2015. Our website allows for e-check payments with zero convenience fees, and for credit card payments with convenience fees. We also continue to accept payments by mail or in-person up through the payment due date. If you have any issues with the website or the e-check option, please call 404-370-4100.

Friday, May 15, 2015

15 days until Tax Day in Decatur

​​June 1 will be tax day in Decatur—the deadline for residents and businesses to pay the first installment of property taxes to the City for 2015.  Although bills were sent out in April, most taxpayers (about 75 percent) will make a payment to the Revenue Division during the last couple weeks of May.  Division staff Tanya Sims, Shaun Shabazz, Gina Amos, and Russ Madison are ready to welcome you to City Hall!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Tax credit cap raised for historic restorations

Gov. Deal signed House Bill 308 on Tuesday, which raises a $300,000 tax credit cap for historic rehabilitation projects up to $5 to $10 million.  The increase is less than what some advocates had originally proposed in an earlier version of the bill which would have increased the cap to $60 million.  Officials, particularly in the Savannah area, see the increase as a powerful economic development tool.  WSAV reports:

Last but Not Least; Historic Property Tax Credit Law to Give Big Bucks for Restorations
SAVANNAH, GA - It was the last bill to meet the Governor's pen on Decision Day but the historic income tax credit bill is now law and has one Savannah representative excited.
Millions of dollars in tax credits can now go towards restoring some of the largest historical properties in the state of Georgia.
"All this bill is trying to do is bring the developers to ground zero so that the significant cost of renovating these projects, getting an investor to come to the table and put the kind of money it's going to take and capital to get this where it needs to be," says local state representative Ron Stephens who sponsored and wrote the bill.
Locally, historic groups see only growth of big projects coming to Savannah with this new law.
"Now we're gonna have a mechanism to entice, incentivize investors, property owners, buyers to get involved in this get developers engaged in preservation," says Historic Savannah Foundation President Daniel Carey who's non profit helped lobby heavily for the bill.
The governor signed the bill into law Tuesday. It removes the old 300,000 dollar tax credit cap for individual historic structure restorations to upwards of 5 to 10 million dollars or a quarter of the aggregate renovation costs.
These caps Carey says move the state in a right direction to compete with neighboring states in the South.
"We were losing business and we were losing revenue, we were losing preservation projects to those surrounding states so now we have a competitive advantage," Carey says.
In the case of Savannah, it can have a huge impact on the restoration and development of the more than 200 million dollar hotel project slated for the West River Street Georgia Power Plant. Now the Kessler Collection restoring the space could see close to 25 million dollars in aggregate credits over a year for the development...

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

2 other property tax measures signed into law

In addition to House Bill 202 that modified some procedures for appealing property tax assessments, Gov. Nathan Deal signed two other pieces of legislation last week that affect property taxpayers.  First, HB 215 provides for a referendum on an “equalized HOST” that would increase sales taxes and provide some property tax relief to DeKalb homeowners.  Second, HB 234 provides that no tax payment deadline shall fall on a Federal Reserve bank holiday.  That law doesn’t have much of a practical effect since there are very few Federal Reserve holidays that aren’t already federal or state holidays, and the ones that are don’t fall on any of Decatur's tax due dates.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Governor signs property value appeal bill

Last week Gov. Nathan Deal has signed House Bill 202, a comprehensive local taxation law that modifies some appeals procedures for property taxpayers.  The new law allows taxpayers to request a “description of the methodology used by the board of tax assessors in setting the property's fair market value” after receiving their annual assessment notice.  The act also allows a taxpayer to use a privately commissioned property appraisal in support of a pending appeal.  HB 202 also provides an option to taxpayers to meet with somebody from the tax assessment office to discuss their property value within 30 days of a written request.  The law also amplifies on existing board of equalization, arbitration, and superior court appeals procedures.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Homestead relief proposals in hindsight

Decatur wasn’t the only city to watch its proposals to expand homestead exemptions die in the state House of Representatives this past session. A bill to exempt Atlanta homeowners over the age of 70 from school taxes was defeated a couple days before the session ended. Goes to show that tax relief proposals aren’t always the lead-pipe cinch we thought they were.

Here was the AJC’s report on the Atlanta bill:

A bid to exempt Atlanta seniors from school taxes fails again 

The Georgia House rejected a measure Tuesday that would let Atlanta voters decide whether to exempt many seniors from paying Atlanta Public Schools taxes amid opposition from critics who worry it would undercut the system’s budget. State Rep. Beth Beskin, a Buckhead Republican, said House Bill 633 would help convince older and more affluent residents from bolting to neighboring counties like Cobb and DeKalb that already offer more generous tax exemptions. 
“There’s a reason seniors aren’t moving to the city of Atlanta and they’re not staying here,” said Beskin, a freshman lawmaker. “I know many people, and I’m sure you do too, who move to adjoining counties because the tax burden is onerous.” 
Atlanta already has an exemption for seniors ages 65 and older who earn $25,000 or less annually. Beskin’s bill would broaden the exemption to all seniors once they turn 70. The measure was approved by Atlanta’s local delegation but failed earlier this session in the House. Atlanta schools officials worry the bill would undermine the system’s fiscal health at a tumultuous time, and it failed to earn two-thirds support amid scattered bipartisan opposition. 

But not all property tax relief bills died this year. DeKalb County’s equalized HOST and property value freeze extensions passed the House and Senate. The legislature also passed a homestead exemption measure for the City of Rutledge in Morgan County that is awaiting the governor’s signature.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Entertainment tax credit extended 3 years

Gov. Nathan Deal has signed House Bill 339 which extends the state income tax credit for film, video, and digital production until 2019. The credit had been scheduled to sunset on January 1, 2016.

Decatur has become a popular location for film shoots.  But the credit also has beneficial economic development impacts statewide.  WALB reports that the film and production tax credit is “widely credited with turning Georgia into one of the top production locations in the country and making movies a 5 billion dollar a year industry here.”

The entertainment tax credit had been deemed so successful that some in the industry were pushing for an expansion of the Georgia credit during this legislative session rather than just an extension. However, legislators have been taking a more critical view lately about the number of tax credits currently offered in the Revenue code.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Last chance to renew business license without penalty

The grace period for late business license renewal payments in Decatur for 2015 is expiring. A 10 percent penalty and 1 percent interest per month will accrue on unpaid balances after Apr. 30, 2015.

All 2014 business licenses in Decatur expired on January 30, 2015. If a business has not paid for its 2015 license and is still open in Decatur, that means that the business is operating without a business license.

If your business has closed or moved since 2014, please let us know to update our records and prevent escalated collection activities which will begin in May. If you need any assistance, please call the business license office at 404-370-4100.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Consumer advocates seek tax sale reforms

I recently came across a report from National Consumer Law Center that examined into property tax sales nationwide.  The NCLC described these sales over the past few years as a foreclosure crisis on par with the mortgage foreclosure crisis.  Their report is a bit dated now, but their findings are still relevant for review:
Overview All states have laws that permit local governments to sell property through a tax lien foreclosure process if the owner falls behind on property taxes or other municipal charges.

A tax lien sale may be started over nonpayment of a tax bill of only a few hundred dollars. A $200,000 home may be sold at a tax lien sale for $1,200 and then quickly resold for a huge profit.

Homeowners may lose not only a homestead but also hundreds of thousands of dollars in equity. This equity may represent their sole savings and security for retirement. As a result, foreclosures related to tax lien sales may destabilize entire communities.

Scope of Problem
  • $15 Billion and Counting: As homeowners navigate a difficult job market, declining home values, and high foreclosure rates, property tax delinquencies are increasing. Annual tax lien sales are now approximately $15 billion nationwide, according to the National Tax Lien Association.
  • Outdated Laws: Very few states have enacted procedures to protect owners' equity interests or to avoid windfalls to purchasers, and states rarely update tax lien laws to reflect current economic conditions or to ensure that proper safeguards exist to avoid unnecessary loss of homeownership. 
  • Elderly and Disabled Most at Risk: Homeowners most at risk are those who have fallen into default because they are incapable of managing their financial affairs, such as individuals suffering from Alzheimer's, dementia, or other cognitive disorders. One government study also found that in 2011 property tax foreclosures in New York City were highly concentrated among low-income communities with large African American and Latino populations, groups also targeted by subprime lenders. 
  • Wall Street Reaps Huge Profits: Individual tax sale purchasers and some of the same companies (Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase) are ramping up lucrative profit centers. Why? Buying tax liens can yield an incredible rate of return, up to 50%. Many state laws also permit tax lien purchasers to charge homeowners extremely high interest rates and fees to redeem their property and avoid foreclosure.
Key RecommendationsThe following recommendations reflect the goals of preserving homeownership and ensuring prompt payment of local taxes.

State Recommendations
  • Make redemption costs affordable by keeping investor profits reasonable. State laws should be reformed to limit the maximum interest or penalty rate on redemption amounts to reflect current economic conditions. The interest rate should seek to discourage speculation and promote redemption. 
  • Place reasonable limitations on additional fees and costs. States should not permit investors to pad their profits by charging homeowners unreasonable fees to redeem after the foreclosure process has been initiated. State law should establish a maximum fee schedule based on reasonable, market rates for title searches, attorneys' fees, and other fees. 
  • Establish a tax sale procedure, with court supervision. States should limit the initial tax sale to the sale of a tax lien certificate, rather than granting an entire interest in the property to a purchaser. If a homeowner fails to redeem the property, state law should require the purchaser to seek a court order authorizing final sale of the property. The court should confirm the final sale results and ensure that the sale price is fair and that any surplus funds are promptly paid to the homeowner. 
Recommendations for Cities and Towns
  • Implement redemption payment programs. Local tax offices should collect redemption payments to eliminate the possibility that an unscrupulous purchaser may thwart the owner's attempt to redeem. The local tax office should accept partial and installment payments. 
  • Adequate notice should be given at every stage of the tax sale process. Notifications should be used as a tool to avoid loss of homeownership Comprehensive notices should use plain language; include information about tax exemptions, abatements, and repayment plans; and note the consequences of each stage of the tax sale process. 
  • Provide detailed notice of redemption rights. The notice should give all of the essential details on how the redemption right can be exercised, including the name and address to which the homeowner can remit payment; itemized costs; and the deadline for the redemption payment.

Georgia law provides for a redemption amount of 120 percent paid by the property owner to the tax sale purchaser. My office will take a look at the proposals made here for cities. That being said, at least since 2008 if not much earlier up to the present, Decatur hasn’t had to auction off owner-occupied homes. Normally our tax sales involve vacant or unbuildable lots. We seldom get questions about redemption because usually the owner has decided to “walk away” from the property. The 120 percent redemption amount probably is a big hurdle for owners who weren’t able to pay their taxes in the first place.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

45 days until property taxes are due

First installment property taxes for Decatur are due by June 1, 2015.  We mailed out paper bills three weeks ago.  If you did not receive your paper bill, please go to our website at www.decaturgatax.com.  Payments can also be made on that website by e-check with no fees or by credit card with a convenience fee.  If your mailing address has changed, you must notify both the DeKalb County assessor's office at 404-371-0841 and the Decatur tax office through our website at www.decaturgatax.com.