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.



Monday, July 20, 2015

School board approves a rate cut of 1.84 mills


The Decatur board of education approved a 2015 property tax rate of 18.66 mills last week.  The rate is 1.84 mills lower than it was in 2014 (a 9 percent year-over-year decrease), and it is 0.34 mills lower than what the school system's finance department recommended for this year.

The approved rate is higher than the "rollback rate" of 18.1 mills, which is the highest rate that could have been passed to result in an effective tax cut once property values citywide are factored in.  Under the new rate, the school taxes in 2015 for a property valued at $400,000 would be $368 less than they were in 2014.  But given the growth in local property values this year, the decreased tax rate could end up washing out on many tax bills.

Several large school districts in the state, such Cobb County, Gwinnett County, Cherokee County, and Atlanta Public Schools are holding their millage rates steady for 2015.  Muscogee County, Savannah, and Forsyth have adopted millage rate increases.  The Oconee County board of education has approved a decrease, but I'm not familiar of too many other school tax rate cuts at this time.

Decaturish has a good write-up on the school board's decision here.

Per Decatur's charter, the City Commission is required to adopt the levy rate proposed by the school board.  The Commission will take up the measure during their meeting tonight.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Decatur Board of Education to vote on school millage rate tonight


Decatur's school board will consider a 1½ mill decrease in their millage rate for tax year 2015 (their fiscal year 2016) during their regular meeting tonight.  The school millage rate is significant to all local property taxpayers because the school taxes are about 60 percent of your bill.  Under the proposed school millage rate reduction, the property taxes for a $400,000 home in Decatur would be about $300 lower in 2015 than they were in 2014 assuming the property value had not changed and everything else remained the same.

The Board of Education's agenda for tonight includes the following proposal:

Requested Action
Move approval of the Fiscal Year 2016 millage rate of 19.00 mills.
Background
On an annual basis the City Schools of Decatur adopts a millage rate in support of the subsequent year's operating budget. The Superintendent is recommending the millage rate be reduced from 20.50 mills to 19.00 mills for Fiscal Year 2016. It should be noted that last year the Superintendent recommended and the Board approved a reduction in the millage by 0.40 mills. This recommended millage rate of 19.00 mills, if approved would be a decrease to the millage of 1.90 mills over the last two years. This cumulative reduction of 1.90 mills would equate to a loss of revenue to the District in the amount $3.0 million.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Reminder about property appeal deadline


DeKalb mailed annual assessment notices to most property owners on May 29.  Property owners have 45 days to file an appeal with DeKalb County if they disagree with their value.  For most property owners that means that today, July 13, is the last day to file an appeal of your 2015 property value.  Follow the instructions or call the staff contacts at the phone numbers listed on your assessment notice, or call the DeKalb assessors main number at 404-371-0841 for further guidance.  If you wait until you get your next tax bill, it will be too late to appeal.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

E-payments on the rise


Online tax payments to the City of Decatur have increased by about 175 percent since Decatur began accepting electronic checks during the 2nd installment property tax billing of 2014. Decatur previously accepted only credit card payments with a convenience fee charged by a third-party payment processor. From July 2014 through June 2015, the city received 945 web payments (credit card or e-check) for taxes totaling $2 million.  The year before that, the city received 345 web payments for $500,000 in taxes. The city has also experienced a doubling in the number of businesses renewing their license and paying their occupation taxes electronically with over 10 percent of businesses now choosing to pay that way.

Paying online at www.decaturgatax.com has several advantages over sending checks through the mail or using an online bill paying service through a personal bank account.  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.

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 any formal payment deadline to help prevent any last-minute stress over whether your payment was received on time.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Lowndes County explains 6,000 erroneous tax estimates


The Lowndes County assessors office is explaining an error that caused almost 20 percent of the assessment notices they sent out to show an inaccurate doubling of property tax estimates.  All counties in Georgia have been required to send assessment notices annually since 2012, which include a tax estimate for the year.

From the Albany Herald on June 28:
VALDOSTA (TNS) — The Lowndes County Board of Assessors said it sent out 33,858 Notices of Assessments to Lowndes County property owners earlier this month, and about 6,000 of the notices showed a double billing for residential property owners in Special Lighting Districts. "There was a programming error in our software, and we didn't catch it," said Silas Hrobar, Chief Appraiser for the county, who said the lighting fee was figured twice in the calculation of the estimated property tax amounts.

Special Lighting Districts are those in which the developer and then the residents have agreed to share the cost of street lights in the development.

The Notice of Assessments containing the double billing are only estimates of tax amounts which will be due in November of 2015 for the year. "The duplication error will have no impact on the actual property tax bills which will come out later this year," said Hrobar.

The mistake is unfortunate, and I'm sure it alarmed a lot of residents in the Valdosta area.  But these glitches can occur when dealing with that much data.  The Lowndes County assessors office is currently displaying this message on their website:

Thursday, July 2, 2015

City Hall closed tomorrow


City Hall, including the tax office, will be closed tomorrow, July 3, in observance of Independence Day.  If you need tax or business license information online during the holiday weekend, please go to www.decaturgatax.com.  Sanitation schedule information is here.  The fireworks show in downtown Decatur will probably start a little after 9 p.m. on Saturday.  City Hall will reopen on Monday, July 6 at 8 a.m.