Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Legislative update on property tax assessments


Of the half dozen bills affecting property taxes that were still being considered by the Georgia General Assembly during the final days of its 2014 legislative session, only one bill ended up passing both chambers.

House Bill 954 adds some criteria to the calculation of fair market value by tax assessors; specifically, "Rent limitations, operational requirements, and any other restrictions imposed upon the property in connection with the property being eligible for any income tax credits" would be factored into assessments going forward.

The legislation would probably only affect the assessment of certain multi-family dwellings such as rent-controlled or government-subsidized housing units.  The original House bill was slightly amended by the state Senate before final passage to clarify that such property shall not be considered as comparable for assessments and appeals.  (My interpretation of that amendment is that, for example, the owner of a non-rent controlled apartment complex can't use the value of a rent-controlled apartment complex as a comparable property to justify an appeal.)

The bill still needs to be signed by Gov. Deal before it becomes law.  Even if he approves it, I would expect little if any change to Decatur's total tax digest value from this extremely narrow measure.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Decatur property tax bills online


Decatur's property tax bills for the first installment of 2014 are now online at www.decaturgatax.com. We mailed paper bills last week. If you did not receive your bill in the mail, you can access it online, or call us at 404-370-4100 for us to resend your bill.

Payments can also be made online with a convenience fee equalling 30 cents plus 2.2 percent of the total charges. Payments are processed by PayPal, but you do not have to have a PayPal account to pay online. PayPal will give you the option to select "Don’t have a PayPal account?"  Then you can enter your information and pay by Visa, Mastercard, Discover, or American Express. 

Property tax records in Decatur are available online going back to 2009.

If you prefer to mail in your payment, please use the return envelope we enclosed with your bill and include the tear-off remittance coupon with your check. Or just stop by City Hall--we'd like to see you!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Special hours at City Hall--Saturday, March 15


The City of Decatur Revenue Division and the City Manager’s Office will be open today (Saturday), March 15, 9 a.m.-2 p.m., to serve community members who are unable to stop by during the regular workweek. If you want to apply for a homestead exemption, pay a bill, handle a business license matter, or have other needs that could be met by these offices during this time, come to City Hall, 509 N. McDonough St., or call 404-370-4100.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Property tax proposals to watch before the General Assembly adjourns


Dozens of property tax, sales tax, and motor vehicle tax proposals were introduced in the Georgia General Assembly during this legislative session. Only a few have survived as we near the last final days of the legislative session. These property tax and delinquent collections bills have been passed by at least one chamber of the General Assembly already, and will become law if approved by the other chamber over the next week and signed by the governor afterward. Several of the measures are intended to provide more fairness to taxpayers, but there’s not an overall theme to the legislation. Unlike tax proposals during the last couple legislative sessions, most of these bills are pretty narrow in scope. A brief description of each bill follows along with my own thoughts on how these may affect Decatur.

HB 69—Allows for the collection of homeowner, condominium owner, or other property owner association dues in the redemption price after a tax sale.
What this means is that if Decatur (or any other city or county) sells a property during a tax sale, the original owner still has a year to pay to redeem the property from the tax sale purchaser, but would now also be required to pay off any dues paid toward the property between the tax sale and the redemption date as part of the total redemption amount.

HB 412—Authorizes tax officials to provide electronic billing for property tax bills and delinquent notices and adds certain e-billing standards.
Some county tax commissioners in Georgia, such as Walker County, are already providing taxpayers the ability to “go paperless.” This bill puts certain standards in place for tax e-billing, including putting the words “STATUTORY ELECTRONIC SERVICE” in the subject line of emails. As Decatur considers launching e-billing during FY14-15, we would need to adhere to this standard if approved.

HB 819—Requires tax officials to carry out further due diligence steps to contact a delinquent taxpayer prior to transferring a tax execution (lien).
Before a tax execution could be transferred, the tax official must conduct a due diligence search using phone directories or Internet databases to identify the property owner’s most current contact information. The City of Decatur does not sell or transfer liens like Fulton County does, so this bill would have little impact here. Nevertheless, more thorough due diligence searches are in the interests of everybody, because it ultimately helps reduce the number of severely delinquent accounts.

HB 954—Adds some criteria to the calculation of fair market value by tax assessors such as whether the property is rent controlled or otherwise eligible for income tax credits.
This could have some affect on DeKalb’s assessments of certain multi-family housing units.

SB 293—Creates a misdemeanor charge and $1,000 fine against anybody at the board of tax assessors who fails to provide certain information requested by taxpayers regarding their assessment. The bill also expands the definition of distressed properties that could further reduce assessed property values in their vicinity.
This is the first bill I’m aware of that would impose individual fines and penalties on tax assessors. The intent is probably to assist taxpayers during the appeal process. Decatur does not assess property values but this legislation would affect the DeKalb assessors and local taxpayers seeking information from them.

SR 783—Provides for a referendum to amend the state constitution to stop the state from levying any property taxes.
The state portion of your property tax bill has undergone a gradual, legislative decrease since 2010 and will no longer be levied at all by 2016. This resolution would make the phase-out moot by prohibiting state property taxes in the constitution. This would not affect your city tax bill either way, because the state always collected its portion with the county billing. You would see a slight decrease (a few dollars) in your county bill either way since the state portion has already been phased out.

HB 390 pertains to sales taxes in DeKalb County for transportation projects.

HB 69, 412, 819, and 954 passed unanimously or near unanimously in the House, while SB 293, SR 783, and HB 390 each have opposition.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Now is a good time to apply for 2014 homestead exemptions


If you need to file for a new homestead exemption in Decatur for 2014, this is the perfect time of year. Filing within the next month will help ensure that your exemption appears on your 1st installment tax bill which will be mailed out April 1.

If you previously applied for a homestead exemption with the City of Decatur, you do not need to re-apply with us. If you filed for an exemption with DeKalb, you must also apply with Decatur. If you only applied with Decatur, you should also apply with DeKalb.  You must also apply if you qualify for a new exemption based on age or income. Further information on local homestead exemptions can be found at www.decaturga.com/homestead.

Eligible residents can apply for the basic homestead exemption on our website here. For exemptions based on age or income, please come to City Hall at 509 North McDonough Street.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Income tax help at Decatur Recreation Center

If you’re a senior and need help with your income taxes, AARP is offering sessions twice a week at the Decatur Recreation Center, 231 Sycamore Street, between now and April 11.

From BeActiveDecatur.com:
Tax Help! AARP* Tax Aide counselors will be on hand at the Recreation Center to offer free assistance to seniors with federal income tax returns every Wednesday and Friday from 10am-2pm starting February 5 through Tax Day. So bring your materials, sign in with the counselor, and take a few laps around the indoor walking track while you wait.
*(AARP Foundation Tax-Aide offers free, individualized tax preparation for low-to moderate-income taxpayers nationwide – especially those 60 and older.)

If you pay local property taxes and itemize deductions on your federal income tax return, you'll want to bring records of what you paid in property taxes to the Tax Aide counselors. You can access your property tax receipts at www.decaturgatax.com.

The DeKalb Library system has information about additional AARP tax sites in the area, and VITA tax assistance which is available to all taxpayers, not just senior citizens here.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Business license renewal deadline Jan. 31

Businesses in Decatur should pay their annual occupational tax by tomorrow. There will be a lengthy grace period for payments during which no penalties or interest will be charged, but businesses should renew by the deadline in order to maintain a valid license.

You can come to City Hall to renew, or you can mail in your renewal materials with the return envelope we enclosed with the invoice we sent you in November.

If you prefer to pay online, go to this site. For the year, select 2014 (except for lawyers, who should select 2013 instead). For the “business name,” enter your business's name it actually appears on your bill. Once you’ve found your record, click “renew” to pay. You'll be prompted to upload your notarized and completed immigration-related affidavits.

Paypal is our payment gateway, but you do not have to have a Paypal account to pay online. You'll want to check out as a guest, then Paypal will give you the option of selecting which type of credit card you want to use.  If you run into any difficulties online, please call us at 404-370-4100 and we'll try troubleshooting it.

Decatur's occupation taxes are levied on persons, partnerships, corporations, or other entities operating or engaging in an occupation, profession, or business within the city limits of Decatur. The City of Decatur uses profitability ratios to assign tax rates to six different classes of business ranging from $195 to $485 annually.


Monday, January 13, 2014

Homeowner associations crackdown on delinquent accounts


Homeowner associations have become more aggressive in the last few years delinquent collections on unpaid fees. A recent Reuters article highlighted a homeowner association in Kentucky that foreclosed on a homeowner for $288 in unpaid fees. The now former homeowner rents the house that she lived in from the person who bought her foreclosed property.

The article mentions that the woman received 30 notices in the mail from the association. One issue that we run into as a taxing authority is that a few delinquent taxpayers like simply ignore the bills or letters that they receive, even if language used gets more severe with each mailing.

That is part of the reason why we don’t limit ourselves to regular mail. Sending certified mail, setting liens, notifying mortgage companies, making phone calls to owners, advertising delinquent accounts in The Champion, and physically posting a notice on the property on a wooden stake prior to the tax sale are methods that we use to try reaching property owners before the delinquency reaches a tax sale scenario.

I’m not sure what methods homeowner associations are using besides mail to get the attention of delinquent owners, but as a best practice I would suggest that a variety of methods before foreclosure, which should be a last resort.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Deducting real estate taxes paid from your income taxes


*Note:  Please contact a tax professional for tax advice*

If you are itemizing deductions on your 2013 federal income tax return, you can deduct property taxes paid on real property (land and structures) that you own.

Local fees are a different matter.  IRS Publication 530 says that “itemized charges specific to property or persons,” cannot be deducted because they are not “taxes,” even if they are paid to a taxing authority.  The publication lays out specific examples of nondeductible fees, stating that “a periodic charge for a residential service (such as a $20 per month or $240 annual fee charged for trash collection)” is nondeductible.

Generally speaking, payments for Decatur’s residential sanitation and stormwater utility, may fall into this category of nondeductible charges.  For a single-family home in Decatur in 2013, the residential sanitation charge was $235, and the stormwater charge was $75.

Other nondeductible payments include penalties and interest on delinquent taxes paid if applicable.

Tax payments toward the five funds listed on Decatur tax bills (capital, DDA, bond, the general fund, and school taxes) are deductible.

If you are deducting real estate taxes paid from your income taxes, you’ll want to keep a copy of your second installment Decatur property tax bill, which is a restatement of your total taxes owed and paid for the year (and a copy of your DeKalb tax bill) in your income tax file.  You can access a bill reflecting your payments or a receipt at www.decaturgatax.com.

This post is intended solely to bring awareness of the distinction that the IRS draws in its official publications on the real estate tax deduction, and is not intended as instructions on how you should file or how much you should deduct.  Since individual circumstances vary, please contact a tax professional for further guidance.
 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Two more days to pay without penalty


Second installment real property tax payments and personal property tax payments for 2013 were due by Dec. 20, 2013.  The City of Decatur has offered a grace period during which no penalties and interest have been charged for late payments, but that grace period ends in 48 hours. 

We honor postmarks, so as long as you mail in your payment no later than Wednesday, Jan. 8, no penalties or interest will be added to your account.

Thanks to the 95%+ residents and commercial property owners who have already remitted their payments!

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Lessons for cities from the Target breach


The theft of credit and debit card data from Target stores during the Christmas shopping season is a reminder of the necessity for merchants to incorporate rigorous safeguards into their payment acceptance environment.

The City of Decatur and any other government entities that accept credit card payments qualify as “merchants” under payment card industry (PCI) standards. 

Decatur handles over 10,000 credit card transactions representing over $1 million annually across different departments and facilities.  Although this is a tiny volume of transactions compared to big chain stores like Target, and although we do not use point-of-sale devices such as those suspected in the Target breach (keypads with magnetic stripe readers and digital signature pads), the City is not immunized from the risk of breaches.

We have been working over the past several months on enhancing protections of credit card data for our taxpayers and other paying customers, and have begun receiving vulnerability scans on a monthly basis.
 
Funds were approved in Decatur’s FY13-14 budget to have a formal PCI gap analysis conducted by a an approved scanning vendor, and we are close to entering an agreement for the service.  This analysis would be performed under new, more comprehensive payment card standards (PCI-DSS 3.0) standards that go into effect tomorrow.