Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Resolution passed to expand homestead exemptions


In a first step toward expanding two existing homestead exemptions and adding a new homestead exemption, the Decatur City Commission unanimously approved a resolution on Monday night to move the measure forward. The proposal stems from the City Commission’s desire to enact tax relief for residential property owners—particularly to senior residents on low or fixed incomes. The next step would be for the proposed exemption changes to be considered by the Georgia General Assembly to pass local legislation for an eventual referendum on the exemptions in 2015.

The proposal would increase the GH1 basic homestead exemption by exempting $25,000 in assessed value rather than the current $20,000 (which would save approximately $60 on resident homeowners’ tax bills annually assuming no change in property value or in the millage rates). Secondly, the GH2 (age 65) exemption amount of $1,000 would be increased to $10,000 (which would be a savings of an additional $100 per eligible taxpayer), and the addition of a GH3 exemption for homeowners over 62 with household income under $50,000 that would save about $175 per year.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Please remit by tomorrow if paying by e-check


If you are planning to pay your Decatur property tax with an electronic check on our website at www.decaturgatax.com, I encourage you to make your payment today or tomorrow.  E-checks can take three to five days to clear the bank, and our formal payment deadline this installment is Dec. 22, 2014.  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.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Cuts to federal tax credits for historic property rehabilitation under consideration


Stephanie Meeks, president and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, recently wrote an opinion piece highlighting the effectiveness of income tax credits for historic preservation of properties leading up to a national historic preservation conference in Savannah last month. Meeks also says that Congress is considering a repeal of the tax credit:

…Unfortunately, the federal historic tax credit has recently come under threat in Washington. As part of a broader proposal for comprehensive tax reform, the current chairman of the House of Representatives’ tax-writing committee has proposed a repeal of the federal credit. This would consign hundreds of worthy historic rehabilitation projects across the state to uncertain futures. It would harm the Georgia state credit — without the coupling impact of the federal and state tax credit programs, the effectiveness of Georgia’s investments would be vastly diminished. As the Senate Finance Committee considers tax reform proposals in the new Congress, we stand ready to work with Sen. Johnny Isakson — a member of the committee and soon to be Georgia’s senior senator — on legislative efforts to improve the tax credit without losing these vital benefits for communities.
These tax credits are going to be a focal point of discussion at our conference. We’re excited to hear from Macon Mayor Robert Reichert, who will discuss how, over the past two years, his city has had the most tax credit projects in the state of Georgia… 

For property tax purposes in Georgia, properties that have undergone rehabilitative work within set timeframes and improved the property value by set amounts can qualify for an assessment freeze of their property value for 8½ years. Interested property owners can apply for certification by the state Department of Natural Resources then apply for preferential assessment with the DeKalb County tax assessors office. This tax benefit is separate and additional to the state and federal income tax credits that Meeks described.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Federal government promises chip-enabled payment acceptance


Most credit cards in the U.S. have been replaced this year or will be replaced next year with cards that contain a special chip. Retailers are in the process of upgrading payment terminals to accept payments on these newer cards with entry of a PIN by the customer.  The private sector is generally ahead of government entities in adoption of the new chip-and-PIN (also known as EMV) technology, but the Obama administration has announced that federal agencies will begin accepting EMV payments soon.

Specifically, the White House says any new "retail payment card terminals at federal agency facilities" must be chip enabled beginning January 1, 2015.  I'm not sure what exactly this would include, and whether any federal facilities in the Atlanta area accept retail-style credit card payments. To the best of my knowledge, the Internal Revenue Service does not accept credit card payments for income taxes.  The IRS accepts checks, electronic checks, and (according to their website) they accept cash payments with exact change at their two Atlanta-area offices. Perhaps gift shops at national parks would be included.

No EMV directives have come from the governor's office for state agency payment acceptance, and there is no requirement yet for cities or counties in Georgia to accept payments using EMV-enabled terminals.  In October 2015, merchants including government entities that accept credit card payments will face greater liability in the event of credit card fraud committed as a result of credit card transactions made at terminals that aren't chip-and-PIN enabled.

Locally, Kroger has already installed the hardware necessary to accept EMV cards, but won't have the software ready to make it work until next year. Reportedly, Target, Walmart, Home Depot, and Walgreens will be able to accept chip and PIN payments in or before January 2015.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Doraville offers freeport exemption in 2015


Last month, voters in Doraville approved a freeport tax exemption for personal property (property which usually consists of business inventory). The measure passed was for a “level 1” exemption, meaning that there are still some types of business inventory that would remain taxable. A “level 2” freeport exemption would exempt more types of business inventory. Freeport exemptions for businesses work similarly to homestead exemptions for residents by exempting at least a portion of the property’s value. To some extent, freeport exemptions reduce the commercial share of the tax base relative to the residential share. Decatur does not provide a freeport exemption. 

From the AJC last month:
Doraville voters pass manufacturing tax breaks 
Doraville voters approved three tax breaks for businesses during last week’s election. The initiatives, known as freeport exemptions, are intended to attract and retain manufacturing and logistics industries, according to the city. Voters passed each of the ballot measures by about 2-to-1 margins. The exemptions on local ad valorem taxes apply to: 
  • Inventory of goods in the process of being manufactured or produced, including raw materials and partly finished goods. 
  • Finished goods produced in Georgia within the last 12 months 
  • Finished goods stored in Georgia within the last 12 months and destined for shipment out of state
Residents in the city of Stone Mountain approved a similar tax break, making them the first two DeKalb County cities to do so. The county adopted a version of the freeport exemption in 1977.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Property tax office closed for Thanksgiving


The tax office will be closed on Thursday Nov. 27 and Friday Nov. 28 for Thanksgiving. If you need information about taxes during the holiday, please use our website at www.decaturgatax.com. From there you can search, view, and pay property taxes with no convenience fee by electronic check, or by credit card with a convenience fee. Occupation taxes (business license fees) can also be paid from this website without a convenience fee.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Reminder: business personal property taxes due Dec. 22


Business personal property taxes in Decatur are due in less than 30 days for 2014.  The taxes can be paid online at www.decaturgatax.com with an electronic check with zero convenience fees, or online by credit card with a convenience fee.  The taxes are based on returns filed by you or your agent with DeKalb County before April 1, 2014.  If you didn't file a value, DeKalb County determined a value for you.  Decatur takes that value, multiplies it by our 50 percent assessment ratio and our 2014 combined millage rate of 33.5 to arrive at your amount billed.  Revenues from the tax are distributed to the school system, the Downtown Development Authority, the city's capital improvement, bond, and general operating funds to provide quality services to the public.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Joint study committee on property tax impacts on school funding to meet Mon., Nov. 24


The state's joint legislative committee focusing on the impact of payments-in-lie-of-tax (PILOT) agreements and tax digests on school funding will meet for the second time on Monday, November 24 at 1:00 p.m. in room 450 (fourth floor) of the state capitol.  The agenda for the public meeting is to discuss recommendations for the committee's final report.  This may be the committee's final meeting of the year.

During the committee's first meeting in October, lawmakers identified the need for better tracking of PILOT agreements, more notification and transparency about PILOT arrangements to school boards by local development authorities and tax assessors offices, and possibly some refinements to state school funding formulas to ensure local school districts are made whole for forgone tax revenues from PILOT properties.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Fran Millar pledges “to enact true property tax assessment reform”


In campaign ads in the DeKalb Neighbor leading up to the recent election, north DeKalb state senator Fran Millar highlighted his plans for the 2015 session of the Georgia General Assembly. He indicated that he will pass legislation to renew the property value freeze in DeKalb, and that he plans to “pass my legislation to enact true property tax assessment reform.”

During the 2014 session, Sen. Millar sponsored Senate Bill 293 which would have made changes to assessment calculations and to the appeal process. SB 293 passed the state senate but not the state house. Apparently, the initial drafts of the bill were written by property tax litigator Walter Hotz, who lamented the bill’s defeat in a blog post in June. Here’s Mr. Hotz’s explanation of the bill’s intent and his account of what happened to the bill in the House:
For this year’s legislative session, I was asked by a group of Georgia Senators to re-write the real property tax appeal laws for the state of Georgia for the purpose of providing safeguards and rights for Georgia real property owners.

The present laws were heavily weighted in favor of the tax assessors (each county in Georgia) and the Senators wanted to “level the playing field” for property owners. I was honored to have been selected for the task and, although it took more than 100 hours of my time, I was glad to do it. The present law had been drafted by the counties and their lobbyists. If you scoured deep you might find a little “right” for the property owner here and there in the present tax code but the drafters had made certain that whatever rights you had in the existing code, you had no way to enforce those rights – so the counties could simply ignore same with impunity – which many counties did – and there was nothing you could do – to say the code was well designed for the tax assessors would be a gross understatement.

So, the Georgia Senate wanted to do something about it. My suggested changes were put into Bill format by the Senate’s legislative counsel and the Bill was designated as SB 293. SB 293, as I drafted same, gave many rights to the property owner, most of which were commonsensical – rights that you would have thought certainly should have been given to the property owner – in fact, you would be appalled that such rights had not already been given to the property owner.

I appeared as the expert on tax appeal laws and testified before the Senate Finance committee and before the House Judiciary committee. The Bill and your rights were approved unanimously by the Senate Finance committee and received a two-thirds approval in the overall Senate – but then it went to the House Judiciary committee.

The Bill first went to the House Judiciary sub-committee. The House Judiciary sub-committee tore your rights apart and as to anything left, destroyed any enforcement provisions the Bill had given you. I was shocked when not only were they shredding your rights that the Senate wanted you to have but one member on the sub-committee wanted to add certain “penalties” to the property owner – I couldn’t believe she wanted to do so but she did – thankfully her suggested penalties against the taxpayer were not accepted. Then, when the Bill got to the full House Judiciary committee, the final death knell was struck…

Read the rest here.  The Association of County Commissioners of Georgia also plans to push for changes to property tax administration in 2015.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Decatur now accepts tax payments by e-check


In order to provide more options to taxpayers, Decatur now accepts property tax payments by electronic check (“e-check”). There are no extra fees to pay with an e-check—just the principal amount due.

How it works
Property owners can go to www.decaturgatax.com, access their record and click under “Add To Cart” to make a payment. A button will display to “proceed to secure checkout.” Payment options of Visa, MasterCard, Discover, American Express, Paypal, and e-check will be displayed. If e-check is selected, payment is made by entering a bank account and routing number. The company processing web payments on the city’s behalf is Paypal, but a Paypal account is not required to make payments by credit card or e-check.

E-checks clear in 3-5 days 
Property taxes for the second installment of 2014 are due by Dec. 22, 2014. Taxpayers should be aware that e-checks, like paper checks, generally take three to five days to clear the bank. It is not an immediate debit like online credit card transactions. Considering the clearing period, e-check payers are encouraged to pay at least five days prior to our formal payment deadline to help prevent any last-minute stress over whether your payment was received on time.

Why choose e-check?
Paying by e-check lets property owners save a stamp and avoid convenience fees for online credit card payments. Paying with an e-check through www.decaturgatax.com also offers several advantages compared to paying taxes as part of an online bill paying service through personal bank accounts. If you currently pay your taxes online through your personal bank account, we encourage you to consider switching to pay with an e-check directly through our website. At www.decaturgatax.com, you can access a full copy of your tax bill, while most major online banking services do not provide detailed bills. Secondly, using an online bill paying feature through your personal bank account may not allow you to include your property ID and tax year with your payment, which are the two essential pieces of information we need to post your payment to your account in a timely and accurate fashion. (Paying with an e-check through our website automatically provides the city with the property ID and tax year information.) Lastly, the e-check service we use is truly electronic, and no paper checks are generated or printed during the process, but with your online bill pay checks, we actually receive those checks as paper.

Web payment services
Decatur began accepting web-based credit card payments with a third-party convenience fee for property taxes in 2010. Adding free e-check acceptance has grown out of Decatur's ongoing commitment to provide more automated services to the community.  Businesses with commercial sanitation accounts will also be able to pay with e-checks in 2015.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Notes for Veterans Day


Partial exemption from property taxes
The City of Decatur provides a homestead exemption specific to veterans with disabilities in accordance with state law.  If applicants for the disabled veteran exemption provide us with a letter indicating 100 percent disability from the Department of Veterans Affairs and file an application card with our office, the exemption can save you up to $3,000 a year on your Decatur property tax bill.  The exemption is also available to unremarried surviving spouses.  Please note that this exemption is based on the disability status of veterans, and is separate from the exemption that disability-based exemption offered by DeKalb County.

Exemption from business license fees
Veterans discharged under honorable conditions from the U.S. military who have at least a 10 percent disability from wartime or a 25 percent service-connected disability from peacetime whose income is exempt from state taxation are also eligible for exemption from occupation taxes. In other words, you do not have to pay for a business license in Decatur if you meet those criteria. If you own a business in Decatur and qualify for this occupation tax exemption, please contact my office at 404-370-4100 so we can adjust your account.

Veterans Day in Decatur
A remembrance service honoring those who served in the military who are buried in the Decatur Cemetery will take place onsite tomorrow at 11 a.m.

Decatur City Hall will be open for business on November 11. Decatur schools, the post office, local banks, and DeKalb County offices will be closed.