Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Legislators intend to fix the equalized HOST

In 2015, the General Assembly passed House Bill 215, which authorized a vote in 2016 for a new, "equalized" homestead option sales tax (HOST) and special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) that would alter the formula for a local sales tax for infrastructure improvements and property tax credit offsets. The legislature also approved HB 596, authorized a vote to extend the existing property tax "freeze," which locks in homeowner values for the purposes of county tax billing. HB 215 included language that said the freeze would be suspended if an equalized HOST were in effect. Realizing that this would increase homeowners' tax bills, officials have decided not to put the sales tax measure on the ballot. HB 596 will appear on November ballots as regularly scheduled to extend the freeze.

Members of the DeKalb legislative delegation is saying that they will work quickly in the 2017 session to correct HB 215 for a vote. Crossroads News has the details on the legislators' plans:
DeKalb delegation to change law hampering county SPLOST
The DeKalb delegation to the Georgia General Assembly is preparing to fix a state law that derailed a DeKalb County government Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax in July.
The DeKalb Board of Commissioners was preparing to vote to place a 1 percent sales tax referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot to fund road paving and other infrastructure improvements when it discovered that House Bill 596 would have eliminated property tax relief for homeowners.
The SPLOST would have generated $551 million over five years with $377.7 million going to the county and the rest to the cities.
Now commissioners like Larry Johnson, who represents District 3 and is the BOC’s presiding officer, are pushing for the law to be amended. Johnson said more than $200 million will be spent in South DeKalb if voters approve the SPLOST.
“That is money that will fix our roads and improve our parks and libraries,” he said. “We need that money to make improvements.”
State Sen. Emanuel Jones, who attended a Sept. 20 SPLOST update meeting hosted by Johnson, said he is working to change the law in the early weeks of the 2017 legislative session so that the referendum can be on the March 2017 ballot. “It’s an accelerated time line but we can do it,” Jones told the meeting...

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Info session scheduled on proposed homestead exemptions

If you would like to learn more about the proposed, expanded property tax exemptions in Decatur, including the school tax exemption for homeowners over the age of 65, a session will be held on October 20 at 6:30 p.m. at the Decatur Recreation Center at 231 Sycamore Street.  This will certainly be the best opportunity to learn more about the proposals before voters consider them on Election Day.  From the October edition of the Decatur Focus:
Decatur's Lifelong Community Advisory Board's Taxation and Affordability Committee is hosting a Third Thursday information session for Decatur residents to learn more about the new homestead exemptions that will come up for vote on the Nov. 8 ballot.  Join them to learn more.
A panel from the City Schools of Decatur and the City of Decatur will answer questions and provide information about these five homestead exemptions.  One of them is an exemption from school property taxes for homeowners over the age of 65--an exemption that expires in five years, when it will be reevaluated.
For more information about the Decatur for a Lifetime initiative or the board, contact Lee Ann Harvey at 678-553-6548 or

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Georgia puts tax lien on 'real housewife of Atlanta'

A lien has been filed against Atlanta-area celebrity NeNe Leakes. The lien is apparently for almost $100,000 in unpaid state income taxes. This comes after receiving a much larger federal tax lien. From the Daily Mail:

EXCLUSIVE: Real Housewives of Atlanta star NeNe Leakes hit with ANOTHER tax lien and now owes almost $1 million in back taxes - as IRS threatens to seize her assets

  • Former Real Housewives of Atlanta star NeNe Leakes was hit with a state tax lien on September 22 in Georgia court She is accused of refusing to pay a total of $95,232.92 in 2014 state taxes 
  • The lien comes after she was hit with a $824,366.01 federal tax lien in July for refusing to pay federal back taxes for 2014 Leakes appeared on the 18th season of Dancing with the Stars - where she placed seventh
  • That same year, she announced the launch of The NeNe Leakes Collection on the Home Shopping Network
  • If she does not pay her debt soon, the Georgia Department of Revenue will also begin the process of seizing her assets and property
Former Real Housewives of Atlanta star NeNe Leakes' financial troubles continue to worsen as she was hit with a second tax lien in four months - this time for nearly $100,000.
Leakes, whose real name is Linnethia Monique Leakes, was hit with a state tax lien from the Georgia Department of Revenue for $95,232.92 on September 22 over unpaid taxes from 2014.
In July, the federal government also hit the 48-year-old reality star with a tax lien, threatening to seize her assets if she didn’t pay $824,366.01 in back federal taxes from the same year.
The state tax lien that was filed in September shows that Leakes originally owed $58,458, but it has grown with interest ($9,715.71), penalties ($15,317.61), collection fees ($11,691.60) and other costs.
If she does not pay her debt soon, the Department of Revenue will begin the process of seizing her assets and property.
The federal and state liens still remain active, meaning she has yet to pay off her debt...

Friday, October 14, 2016

Using tax digests for genealogical research

According to a recent article by the Augusta Genealogical Society, property tax digests can be a great tool for historical and genealogical research.  I am somewhat surprised by this since tax digests are not permanent records under the state retention schedule.  In Georgia, tax digests are temporary records to be retained for 14 years.  That being said, I imagine that a lot of counties haven't destroyed their old tax digests, and the article points out that has a large collection.  Records probably vary a lot from county to county, and it sounds useful if a county has maintained them.  Here are the Augusta Genealogical Society's insights:
Your Story: Tax records invaluable for genealogical work
By Augusta Genealogical Society
Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016
One of the most valuable, yet overlooked record sets for genealogical research is the tax digest.
When census records are missing, tax records can fill the gap, showing residence in a particular place at a particular time. Combined with other evidence, a number of facts can be gleaned from extant tax digest. But extracting information from the digest requires patience and perseverance.
Regardless of the state or county in which your ancestors lived, tax records were created, although not all have survived. A check of the websites for the state archives where your family lived might be helpful in determining what is obtainable. It is also important to understand what the tax records imply, which can change from year to year according to the laws established by the state Legislature for each year.
In Georgia, many tax digests have been preserved. Original digests can often still be found in county courthouses, either in the office of the Superior Court clerk or Probate Court, or in the county archives or records retention facility. Most have been microfilmed and are held by the Georgia Archives in Morrow. Some, but very few, are indexed.
Many 18th century Georgia tax digests have been digitized and can be accessed from the comfort of your own home and computer by signing into Georgia’s Virtual Vault. also has a large collection of late 18th and 19th century Georgia tax digests that are accessible online. Although is a subscription site, it can often be accessed through your local public library. So far, Georgia tax digests found on are not complete for every county, but they certainly are worth checking before resorting to rolling through microfilm...

Thursday, October 13, 2016

City official predicts 3 years before motor vehicle tax revenues "disappear"

Cedartown city manager Bill Fann says that local ad valorem tax revenues from cars and trucks in Georgia will virtually vanish in three years.  The state reformed the "birthday tax" system several years ago, and local governments were concerned at the time that the redesigned system would eventually lead to decreased revenues.  From the Polk County Standard Journal:
...It’s a problem all local governments are facing, and city manager Bill Fann has one big answer as to why: ad valorem tax is disappearing for motor vehicles.
“The [Cedartown] millage rate has been virtually constant, yet the net ad valorem tax revenue is down from 2012 to 2016,” he said. 
He said because Georgia’s annual motor vehicle tax is almost non-existent, with it being replaced by payments made when a vehicle is first purchased followed by an annual tag fee each year, the money that cities and counties once relied on to help decrease taxes overall isn’t there anymore.
“It’ll be three years before it virtually disappears,” he said...

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

State proposes rule to strike non-taxable properties from county digests

The Georgia Department of Revenue has proposed a rule that would establish a process to remove exempt properties that are listed "illegally" in county digests.  I am not sure what prompted this proposed rule or what the intent of it is.  Maybe there hasn't been a clear procedure before if a county doesn't regard a property as tax-exempt, but DOR thinks it should be exempt.

On the one hand, it makes more sense to me for assessors to determine what is taxable since that is part of their job. On the other hand, if there is a disagreement between the state and the local assessors, and that disagreement could delay approval of the county's digest, then it may be better to give the state this type of line-item authority.

DOR will consider the 11-page proposed rule on Oct. 31 at 10 a.m. at 1800 Century Boulevard.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Fulton County chief tax appraiser fired

The chief tax appraiser of Fulton County was fired last month. David Fitzgibbon was blamed for miscalculations that led to a delay in Fulton County's property tax billing. Note that it was the board of assessors, not the tax commissioner nor county commission, that had authority over this matter. From 11 Alive:
FULTON COUNTY, Ga. -- Fulton County's chief tax appraiser has been fired after a miscalculation in property taxes delayed bills from going out by nearly two months. 
Late Thursday, the Tax Assessor's Board voted to terminate David Fitzgibbon's employment after a two-hour meeting. As chief tax appraiser, Fitzgibbon is responsible for setting the county's tax rates and sending out tax bills. He failed at both this year, 11Alive Investigator Catie Beck has uncovered.

A county vendor provided wrong numbers and delayed bills from going out in July to being sent in September. County board members blamed Fitzgibbon's office for not finding the problem sooner and for stalling operating budgets across the county. 
Several members of the county board called for increased accountability for the commissioner after the debacle caused confusion and distraction within several municipalities. 
Fitzgibbon has taken no responsibility for the mistake and claims the board was acting under political pressure from county commissioners. 
"It was the software vendor -- the software vendor's contract is with the IT department and the tax commissioner," he said. "The issues were on the tax commissioner's side and not the assessor's side." 

The tax commissioner of Fulton County is Arthur Ferdinand.

Monday, October 10, 2016

State puts stop to Irwin County tax increase

The Georgia Department of Revenue is very serious about the requirements for advertising adoption of local tax rates annually.  Although Irwin County advertised a tax increase, and the Irwin County board of commissioners approved the increase, it was determined that the advertisement was flawed.  Now, rather than moving forward with its planned increase, Irwin will maintain its millage rate from last year.  From WALB:
IRWIN CO., GA (WALB) - Irwin County commissioners approved a property tax increase several weeks ago, but it will not go into effect. Officials said an error in the way they told the public about the change caused their tax digest to be rejected by the state. 
The saying goes that taxes are one of the only certain things in life..
And, an Irwin County millage rate increase of 1.25 seemed locked in when commissioners approved it several weeks ago.  But on Monday, the county got word that the increase in its tax digest would not go into effect.
"We sent in our digest and due to our advertisement of the intention of going up on taxes was worded wrong. So, the Department of Revenue did reject our digest," said Commission Chairman Joey Whitley. Whitley said the county did put out ads and held several public hearings on the proposed increase, but ultimately didn't meet the full requirements needed to tell the public about the change. "In the new format the Department of Revenue has, you have to explain what it would cost for say a $100,000 house, what the actually tax increase was and that was not in our ads," said Whitley. And in response to the rejection of its digest, Whitley said the county commission agreed to keep the millage rate where it currently stands at 12.375.
The group could meet a September first deadline to submit its tax policies for the year. But, Whitley said the rejection of the property tax increase also means the county government may need to make cuts to offset the lack of revenue...

Friday, September 2, 2016

Tax office closed for Labor Day

Decatur's tax office will be closed on Monday, September 5. If you need immediate information over the holiday weekend, please go to 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 September 6 at 8 a.m.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

DeKalb still accepts payments in two installments

The Decatur Revenue Division, which is a separate tax office from DeKalb’s, has received a couple of phone calls asking whether DeKalb or Decatur have changed to single-installment billing for property taxes. The answer is no. These questions resulted from a television news report about a request from DeKalb County to mortgage companies to make one payment instead of two. The report profiled a taxpayer whose mortgage payment went up by an unspecified amount as a result of her lender making one lump payment to DeKalb instead of two.  

DeKalb County tax commissioner Irvin Johnson has since clarified in a press release that no mortgage company is required to pay the total amount up front. DeKalb has not eliminated the option to pay in two installments, either for lenders or for property owners who don’t pay their taxes out of escrow.

While we’re on the subject, it may be worth pointing out a few differences between DeKalb County and Decatur’s installment billing. Decatur bills property taxes in two separate installments per year. My office sends taxpayers two separate bills each year, with a different amount on each of the two bills, which are due on two separate dates. Our installments are about six months apart. We do not accept a payment for the full year during the first installment because we do not know how much the second installment bill will be until later in the year. If a mortgage company or individual attempts to double their first installment payment as a pre-payment for the full year, we refund the overage. It is our policy not to accept funds that are not yet known to be owed to Decatur.

Although the term “installments” is used for DeKalb’s property taxes, I don’t really consider the county's system to be a two-installment billing like Decatur’s. DeKalb basically issues one bill with two payment stubs allowing a taxpayer to spread out his or her payment by six weeks without accruing interest charges. But it’s still basically one bill.

Both systems have their pluses and minuses, and this example helps illustrate how changes in installment policies can potentially affect mortgage payments.

Monday, August 29, 2016

GBI investigates improper homestead exemption

A Twiggs County commissioner allegedly attempted to "transfer" his disabled veterans exemption onto a house occupied by his son.  It is also alleged that he told a relative in the tax assessors office to make the change.  The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is looking into the case.

The disabled veterans property tax break is a statewide exemption available to a homeowner for their primary residence if they are considered 100 percent disabled by the federal Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).  Commissioner Tommie Lee Bryant is also accused of receiving the exemption for 20 years although he is considered 60 percent disabled.

During a Georgia Association of Tax Commissioners conference a couple of years ago, I heard a speaker from the Georgia Department of Veterans Service who argued that veterans who are compensated at a 100 percent level in terms of their benefits should also be granted the disabled veterans homestead exemption, even if they are not considered 100 percent disabled by the VA.  I think that is an appropriate standard if the applicant can document that he or she is being compensated at a 100 percent level.  From the news reports, it is difficult to tell whether or not Commissioner Bryant has that documentation.

I was somewhat surprised that the state has become involved in what looks at first glance to be an administrative question about property tax exemption eligibility.  However, using one's authority as a public official and influencing a relative to make the change probably escalated this case beyond the basic eligibility question.