Friday, February 12, 2016

City Hall closed for Presidents Day


Decatur City Hall including the tax office will be closed on Monday, February 15.  If you need immediate tax information over the holiday weekend, please go to www.decaturgatax.com.  Please keep in mind if you are making or recently made a payment that it will take longer than usual to clear the bank. We will reopen Tuesday at 8:00 a.m.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

New “township” tax rates would be capped at half a mill


State lawmakers are proposing an additional form of local government in Georgia: towns. Townships would have limited powers and limited tax rates. Specifically, the ad valorem millage rate would be capped at no more than 0.5 mills. Town supervisors (which is what the legislation calls them) would need to keep a pretty sharp eye on their property tax digests under this proposal, particularly if a new town started out at the 0.5 mill maximum. Any significant downturn in property values could not be offset by increasing the millage rate beyond the cap. As far as I can tell, towns would be subject to the same balanced budget requirements that cities, counties, and the state face.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Sen. Parent sponsors 5 homestead exemption bills


State Senator Elena Parent (D-Atlanta) introduced five local legislative bills on Thursday to expand homestead exemptions in Decatur. Senate Bill 339 would increase the basic homestead exemption (known as the GH1) from $20,000 to $25,000. SB 340 would increase the exemption for homeowners over 65 (GH2) from $1,000 to $10,000. SB 342 would create a new $15,000 exemption (GH3) for homeowners over 62 with household income under $50,000. SB 341 would repeal an old cap on exemption amounts. The bills would reduce property taxes for eligible homeowners by decreasing the taxable value of their homes. The bills resemble House Bill 670, 672, and 673 which did not make it out of the House of Representatives during the 2015 session, but city officials and state lawmakers are more confident that the proposed tax relief will be approved this time around.

SB 343 is a new proposal supported by the City Schools of Decatur and the Decatur City Commission that would create an exemption from school taxes (excluding school bond taxes) for homeowners over 65.

If the bills pass the Georgia General Assembly, they would have to be signed by the governor and approved by voters before they would go into effect in 2017. The new school exemption would expire in 2021 unless it is renewed.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Decatur prioritizes property tax relief


The following is a press release from the City of Decatur on its legislative priorities for the 2016 session of the Georgia General Assembly:

City of Decatur General Assembly Legislative Priorities

The City of Decatur’s primary interest during the 2016 Georgia General Assembly session is to support the passage of homestead exemption legislation amending and creating tax relief for our resident homeowners, particularly for seniors. Mayor Patti Garrett said, “Property tax relief for long-time residents who have been a part of our community for many years is our top priority, and we are focused on getting homestead exemption legislation passed this session.”

School Board Chair Annie Caiola said, “Over the past decade there have been significant austerity cuts to the State’s education budget, meaning that local residents have had to pay more and more property taxes in order to maintain the strength of our school system. The increasing property taxes are forcing too many seniors out of our community, and it needs to stop. The City Schools of Decatur School Board strongly supports legislation that will exempt our seniors from ad valorem school taxes.”

Proposed homestead exemption legislation would authorize referendums in November, 2016 and, if approved by the voters, would be effective in 2017.

In the 2015 General Assembly HB 663 was adopted by the Georgia House of Representatives that authorized a referendum to annex areas to the east of the existing city limits of Decatur. “We have new City leadership, a new School Superintendent and new Board of Education leadership,” said Mayor Garrett, “and we need to look at a variety of issues, including annexation, so we will not be pursuing adoption of HB 663 by the Georgia Senate during the 2016 session.”

It is anticipated that the City Commission and the Board of Education will revisit annexation later in 2016 to determine what options should be pursued in the future.

Contact: Peggy Merriss, peggy.merriss@decaturga.com, 404-371-4104 or Linda Harris, linda.harris@decaturga.com, 678-553-6512

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Free tax preparation offered in Decatur


AARP's Tax-Aide volunteers are onsite again this year at the Decatur Recreation Center at 231 Sycamore Street.  They will be providing free income tax return preparation services from 10:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays starting this week up through April 15, 2016. 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 2015, and a copy of your 2014 tax return.  Note that Decatur Active Living staff are not trained to answer tax-related questions. Please direct income tax questions to AARP Tax-Aide volunteers when they are on site.

Friday, January 8, 2016

State representative files bill to cap property assessments


Property tax assessments in Georgia could be capped to increase by no more than 7.5 percent over any three-year period and no more than 2.5 percent in one year if House Resolution 965 passes during the upcoming legislative session. Rep. Brad Raffensperger’s (R-Johns Creek) bill would create a proposed constitutional amendment to be voted on statewide. An assessment cap has also been supported by Sen. Fran Millar (R-DeKalb) who has been influential in property assessment legislation in the General Assembly. Under HR 965, voters would have to approve a local assessment cap referendum as well in order for the cap to take effect locally. If the property is sold, transferred, or the owner has major work done on the property, there is no cap and the property is assessed on the basis of its fair market value. The proposal resembles California’s Proposition 13 which locked in property values at their value in 1978 while allowing for growth in inflation.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Tax Commissioner Claudia Lawson retires; Irvin Johnson steps up


DeKalb County tax commissioner Claudia Lawson has retired. The Champion has a good write-up on her career:
A Florida native who earned her bachelor’s degree at Florida State University, Lawson moved to Georgia in 1977 when her husband’s job transferred him to metro Atlanta.
Lawson, who will retire Dec. 31, began her career with DeKalb County in 1979, working in the vehicle registrations division and as deputy tax commissioner and chief deputy tax commissioner before becoming the county’s first female and Black tax commissioner in 2006.
Under her leadership, the county’s tax office became the first in the state to have implement an imaging system for property tax and motor vehicle records, and computer storage for permanent records.
Commissioners had much praise for Lawson.
“You have always been so available to everyone, not just to the commissioners, but the public as well,” said Commissioner Kathie Gannon.
Gannon said Lawson, who replaced long-serving Tax Commissioner Tom Scott after his death, “took over a position with some pretty big shoes to fill and made those shoes even bigger for the next person that comes along.”
Commissioner Mereda Johnson said Lawson is her “friend who is not only good at her job, but…she’s a good-hearted person and I think that we all can learn from her.”
“She is my shero and I’m going to miss her and I hope that her successor has learned a lot from her. I love you, Claudia, and I’m going to miss you,” Johnson said.
“You can’t say enough good things about Claudia and her wisdom,” said Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton. “I found myself talking to her a lot. She’s always there for you with kind words, with sage advice and she just tells it like it is.
“Thank you for being you, Claudia,” Sutton said.
Commissioner Jeff Rader said the difficulty of being a commissioner “is nothing compared to the job of a tax commissioner because it has been Mrs. Lawson’s job…to separate people from their tax obligation with a smile on her face. And she succeeded in doing that.”
Additionally, Lawson “has had the success of being able to collect almost 100 percent of the taxes that are owed to the county and to not engage in some of the practices that have become popular of selling liens and disrupting peoples’ lives in that way,” Rader said...

The new tax commissioner is Irvin Johnson.  According to the tax commissioner's website:
Irvin Johnson succeeded Claudia G. Lawson as Tax Commissioner upon her retirement on December 31st, 2015. Irvin has been serving DeKalb County residents in the Tax Commissioner’s office since July 2000. Most recently he has held the positions of Branch Manager, Brookhaven office, and Chief Deputy Tax Commissioner. A native of Augusta, he holds a B.A. degree in Liberal Arts and Masters of Education from Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania. Prior to starting his career in the Tax Commissioner’s office, Irvin was a Computer Consultant and Manufacturing Supervisor. In his role as Quality Manager, he led a successful effort to implement quality systems and process controls within the facility that achieved ISO 9001/2 certification.

Although the DeKalb tax office is separate from Decatur's tax office, we rely on DeKalb for many aspects of taxation and revenues including property assessments and certain tax transfers.  We appreciate the work that Ms. Lawson has done and we wish her the best in retirement.  We also congratulate Mr. Johnson on his new role!

Monday, January 4, 2016

Property tax grace period ends Jan. 7


If you still haven't paid your property taxes for the second installment of 2015 for Decatur, Georgia, please make your check payable to City of Decatur and mail to:

CITY OF DECATUR LOCKBOX
PO BOX 945650
ATLANTA, GA 30394-5650

We will honor postmarks up until January 7 without charging penalties or interest.  Do not overnight your payment to the lockbox address because it is a post office box.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

City Hall closed New Year's Day


Decatur City Hall including the tax office will be closed on Friday, January 1.  Since the post office and banks will also be closed, please expect any payments that you have recently sent in to take some additional time to clear and be posted to your account.  We will reopen on January 4.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Lawyer taxes due tomorrow


Occupation taxes from lawyers practicing in Decatur, Georgia, are due by tomorrow, December 31, for tax year 2015.  The bill is $425 payable to City of Decatur from each lawyer.  The $425 charge is not per law firm, it is per individual attorney.  The tax is not a regulatory fee; the tax is strictly for revenue purposes and does not constitute regulation of the practice of law.  Revenues from the tax are used to provide quality services to the public.

Monday, December 28, 2015

State: tax rates in new cities can’t be capped


Georgia General Assembly legislative counsel Jeff Lanier says that property tax millage rates cannot be capped when new cities such as Brookhaven and Tucker are created. City officials retain the authority to increase tax rates even if a cap was written into the legislation or charter that created them. This news comes from the Atlanta Journal Constitution:
Cities have the power to raise property taxes and expand services, even when their charters attempt to impose limitations, according to legal opinions prepared for Georgia senators.
The opinions, cited in this week’s final report of a Senate task force on cityhood, said the Georgia Constitution gives city councils control over local taxes and service levels. Referendums seeking voter approval aren’t required before city councils take action, the opinions say.
Cities can use their “home rule” authority to remove millage rate caps, according to a legal opinion by Deputy Legislative Counsel Jeff Lanier. Millage caps were included in the legislation that created the cities of Brookhaven, Tucker and others... 

This legal opinion may put cold water on cityhood efforts because supporters can no longer guarantee a maximum tax rate.