Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Court clerk explains new appeals process

Rockdale County clerk of courts Ruth Wilson recently wrote a piece in the Newton Citizen describing the practical implications of House Bill 202 on property appeals.  The way she explains it is a bit clearer than the law itself!  Take a look:
Georgia legislators this year amended laws governing procedures for appealing county tax assessments on real and personal property. The changes took effect July 1.
In 2011, the clerk of Superior Court was mandated by law to provide oversight, administration and administrative assistance to the county Board of Equalization (BOE). This year, those provisions were amended, designating the clerk of Superior Court as the “appeal administrator” for the BOE and requiring the clerk to provide administrative and clerical services necessary for taxpayers to appeal decisions of the Board of Tax Assessors (BOA) affecting taxation of real and personal property...
Upon receiving the taxpayer’s notice of appeal, the BOA reviews its preliminary assessment to determine whether a correction or amendment is merited. If changes or corrections are made, the board sends a notice to the taxpayer and, if the taxpayer concurs, the appeal is dismissed and the new assessed value used for taxation purposes. Taxpayers who disagree with any changes made are required to notify the BOA within 30 days of the date the notice of change was mailed.
The BOA then has up to 90 days from the date of receipt of the taxpayer’s notice of appeal to review it and notify the taxpayer of any corrections or changes. The property valuation asserted by the taxpayer on a property-tax return or notice of appeal becomes the assessed fair-market value of the property for the tax year under appeal if the BOA fails to respond within this period. If no valuation was submitted by the taxpayer, the appeal proceeds to the BOE, which requires the BOA to forward the notice of appeal to the appeal administrator (i.e., the clerk of Superior Court) for scheduling on the BOE hearing calendar.
Within 15 days after receipt of the notice of appeal, the appeal administrator sets a date for a hearing within 30 days of the date of notification — but not earlier than 20 days — and notifies the taxpayer and BOA of the date and time for the hearing. If more than one property is under appeal, the BOE is required to consolidate the appeals in one hearing upon the request of the taxpayer. 
Alternatively, the taxpayer may appeal some assessments or issues to an arbitrator or a hearing officer (for non-homestead real property with a fair-market value in excess of $750,000 and any contiguous non-homestead real property owned by the same taxpayer or for one or more wireless properties with a value of more than $750,000). 
The process is much like a civil court hearing. The taxpayer and assessors’ board staff are required to present evidence relating to the issue on appeal, i.e., taxability, uniformity of assessment, value or denial of homestead exemption. The taxpayer has the option of presenting evidence first or waiting until assessors’ board staff concludes its presentation. Each party is typically allowed 10 minutes to present its case. The standard used for deciding issues is a “preponderance of the evidence,” meaning that the party with the most convincing evidence prevails. The assessors’ board has the burden of proof for issues involving taxability but, with respect to an issue over tax exemption, the taxpayer has the burden. Either party has the right to respond to the other party’s evidence on any issue and to cross-examine all witnesses...

In Decatur, all values are determined and all appeals are handled by DeKalb County.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

DeKalb County tax bills going out this week

The DeKalb County tax commissioner’s office says that their annual property tax bills will be mailed out this Saturday. Here’s a notice from their website:
Please note that the 2015 DeKalb County Tax Statements will be mailed out August 15th. This website will be updated with the 2015 tax amounts and copies of the bills at that time. The 2015 installment deadlines will be September 30th and November 15th. If you intend on making a single payment, payment must be received by the September 30th deadline in order to avoid receiving a 5% late fee. Properties under appeal at the time the statements are mailed are billed at a lower value until the appeal is completed. 

DeKalb’s bills are separate from the City of Decatur’s 2nd installment property tax bills which will be mailed out on October 20 and will be due by December 21, 2015.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Former lawmaker calls for constitutional cap on tax assessments

Former state representative Ed Lindsey recently wrote that, “The General Assembly needs to put a constitutional amendment to limit property tax assessments on the ballot in 2016” in a Peach Pundit blog post. Mr. Lindsey is calling for “limiting annual increases to no more than 3% or the rate of inflation, whichever is less.”

Atlanta Journal Constitution columnist Kyle Wingfield made a similar proposal a couple of weeks ago for a 2.4 percent cap on annual assessment increases.

Friday, July 31, 2015

4 tax elements of DeKalb soccer deal

The draft memorandum of understanding (MOU) between DeKalb County and the new Atlanta United soccer team includes several provisions related to taxes:

Property tax exemption
Sec. 1(i) of the MOU says “…Atlanta United’s interest in the Project will constitute a usufruct, and the County will use its best efforts to cause the DeKalb County Chief Appraiser/Board of Tax Assessors to confirm the Parties’ determination of such interest as a usufruct.” I take this to mean that the property of the soccer headquarters and complex would be exempt from property taxes because the deed would stay in the name of a tax-exempt entity (DeKalb County or the DeKalb County development authority) because the agreement allows Atlanta United to use (as a usufruct) the land without owning it. (See an explanation of usufruct under Georgia tax law here.)

Income tax credits
Sec. 5(a) of the MOU says that DeKalb would seek opportunity zone status from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. “If awarded, the Operator [Atlanta United] shall be eligible to apply job tax credits up to $3,500 per job created as an offset to its State of Georgia income tax liability.”

Sales tax capital outlay
Sec. 5(c) of the agreement says that “The County’s efforts shall include proposing that the Board of Commissioners of the County include Pedestrian Connectivity improvements in the proposed March 2016 Referendum Ballot for approval as an authorized Capital Outlay Project from a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.” In other words, a portion of one of the existing seven pennies of local sales taxes would go toward pedestrian connectivity from the soccer site to the Kensington MARTA station.

Tax allocation district
Sec. 5(f) of the agreement says that “…The County agrees to discuss in good faith permitting the use of any accumulated funds from any applicable tax allocation district to be utilized for any permissible expense… with respect to the construction, maintenance of Phase 2 of the Project… The County will use its best efforts to obtain the participation of the DeKalb County School Board in this tax allocation district.”

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Decatur tax estimator updated

You can use the tool on the left margin of this website to estimate your City of Decatur property taxes for 2015. To use it, enter the 100 percent fair market value as shown on your 2015 assessment notice from DeKalb County. Click whether or not you have the basic homestead exemption, and compute. That will show you a projection of your Decatur taxes for the full year. For a typical home, add another $315 to that total for sanitation and stormwater fees. That will give you an idea of your city tax and fee liability for this year.

To project what your 2nd installment tax bill will be, subtract what you paid during the 1st installment from the year’s total.

Please note that this tool works only for property owners with or without the basic homestead exemption, and does not reflect the full tax savings if you have additional homestead exemptions based on age, income, or disabled veteran status.

My office will have exact 2nd installment tax bills prepared by October 20. We cannot give exact individual amounts before then because we will not receive a certified digest showing individual property values for another month or so, and then we have to review, validate, and convert all the data in our tax software for billing.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Georgia cities with tax websites

Many counties in Georgia collect property taxes on behalf of the cities in their boundaries. Some cities, such as Decatur, collect their own property taxes. Of the cities in Georgia that collect their own property taxes, I'm not sure how many have tax records online, but I've only been able to find six so far. Please let me know if you're aware of other Georgia cities that have their own property taxes online.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Sales tax holiday Jul. 31 to Aug. 1

Georgia's annual sales tax holiday will take place this Friday and Saturday.  Tax-exempt items include computers, printers, and other technology accessories with a sales price under $1,000.  Clothes and shoes are also tax-exempt if the sales price is under $100.  School supplies under $20 are also tax-exempt.

A shopper in Decatur or DeKalb could save up to $70 on a computer, $7 per garment or pair of shoes, etc.  A more detailed list of qualifying items is available on the state Department of Revenue's website here.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Decatur's tax sale scheduled for Aug. 4

The City of Decatur's annual tax sale for delinquent properties will take place next Tuesday, August 4 , inside City Hall (not on the courthouse steps) at 10:00 a.m.  Prospective bidders at the sale are encouraged to look over the information below.

Tax Sales and Redemption Information

As part of our delinquent collections processes, we are able to provide a list of properties scheduled for tax sale and balances owed upon request. However, we are unable to advise you on the quality or characteristics of the properties for sale, or potential financial or legal issues that may arise as a consequence of you bidding, purchasing, or losing a property at one of our annual tax sales. Tax sales conducted by the City of Decatur are “buyer beware” events.

Redemption procedures are governed by state law as follows:

§ 48-4-40. “Persons entitled to redeem land sold under tax execution; payment; time
Whenever any real property is sold under or by virtue of an execution issued for the collection of state, county, municipal, or school taxes or for special assessments, the defendant in fi. fa. or any person having any right, title, or interest in or lien upon such property may redeem the property from the sale by the payment of the redemption price or the amount required for redemption, as fixed and provided in Code Section 48-4-42: (1) At any time within 12 months from the date of the sale; and (2) At any time after the sale until the right to redeem is foreclosed by the giving of the notice provided for in Code Section 48-4-45…

§ 48-4-42.  Amount payable for redemption
The amount required to be paid for redemption of property from any sale for taxes as provided in this chapter, or the redemption price, shall with respect to any sale made after July 1, 2002, be the amount paid for the property at the tax sale, as shown by the recitals in the tax deed, plus any taxes paid on the property by the purchaser after the sale for taxes, plus any special assessments on the property, plus a premium of 20 percent of the amount for the first year or fraction of a year which has elapsed between the date of the sale and the date on which the redemption payment is made and 10 percent for each year or fraction of a year thereafter. If redemption is not made until more than 30 days after the notice provided for in Code Section 48-4-45 has been given, there shall be added to the redemption price the sheriff's cost in connection with serving the notice and the cost of publication of the notice, if any. All of the amounts required to be paid by this Code section shall be paid in lawful money of the United States to the purchaser at the tax sale or to the purchaser's successors.”

If you have further questions about redemption or any other aspect of the tax sale process, I strongly encourage you to consult with an attorney experienced in such matters. You can access a list of local attorneys by going to www.gabar.org, entering “Decatur” under Member Directory, and clicking Search.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

DeKalb adopts millage rates for city property owners

The DeKalb County Board of Commissioners approved a millage rate decrease for unincorporated DeKalb County for 2015 during its meeting on Tuesday. It is the first countywide millage decrease since 2004. The commissioners also levied millage rate increases for all city-dwelling county taxpayers.

The levy includes a tax rate increase of 2.34 mills for Decatur property owners. This is totally separate from the property taxes that are billed and collected by the City of Decatur for city and school operations. The DeKalb millage rate for Decatur only affects the bills that will be sent out by the DeKalb County tax commissioner next month. The county taxes help fund services that are provided only by the county such as sheriff’s services.

The county millage rate increase for city taxpayers is offset somewhat by a half-mill decrease in the state millage rate for 2015 which is collected through county property tax bills. Factored together, I would estimate that DeKalb County taxes for a property without a basic homestead exemption valued at $400,000 within Decatur’s city limits would be about $360 higher than DeKalb County property taxes for a property in the same location with the same value in 2014. I am not sure how much the county taxes for a city property with the basic homestead exemption would go up because I’m not sure about the value of this year’s HOST credit yet.

As I noted earlier this week, the combined millage rate set by the City of Decatur and the City Schools of Decatur has been lowered from 33.5 mills in 2014 to 30.66 mills in 2015. Taxes for a property valued at $400,000 with no assessment change would go down by about $560 compared to last year. So once the DeKalb property tax bill increase is factored in, the total property tax liability (city, school, county, and state) for a property with an unchanged $400,000 value would be about $200 lower than last year. But again, individual circumstances will vary due to property values, and exemptions.

The millage rates for DeKalb taxes for city property owners are illustrated by this chart that was included in Chief Executive Officer Lee May’s 2015 midyear budget and millage rate proposal:

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Business license officials attend national conference in Savannah

City and county employees from across the country attended the 31st annual conference of the National Bureau of Regulatory & Revenue Officials last week. I had the opportunity to attend along with Shaun Shabazz from our office. The conference was in Savannah.

Topics included an update on case law concerning business licensing and occupational taxation, the possibility of centralizing revenue collection at the state level rather than the local level in some states, a discussion of newer business models such as Uber and Airbnb, business license best practices, and the regulation of sexually-oriented businesses (adult entertainment).

Attending conferences like this is an important component in preparing ourselves as city employees for the growing number and variety of businesses in Decatur. It also gave us the chance to network with professionals who are focused on business licensing full-time. I met several officials who I will call upon in the future as we adapt to an evolving legal and business landscape.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Decatur’s combined millage rate OK’d for 2015

The City Commission adopted the millage rate for the school fund last night based on the rate the school board approved last week. Coupled with the June approval by the City of a one mill rate reduction for 2015, the combined property tax millage rate for the City of Decatur and the City Schools of Decatur will be 30.66 mills. In 2014 the combined tax rate was 33.5 mills. The final combined rate reflects an 8 percent rate decrease since last year.

Tax savings or increases will vary based on property values. Here are some sample projections comparing Decatur property taxes for this year and last year for properties with and without the basic homestead exemption.  These are estimates for a full year and exclude fees for stormwater and sanitation which average $315 per home per year.  Any payments made during our first installment billing of 2015 are treated as credits against the total amount owed for the year.