Thursday, December 31, 2015

City Hall closed New Year's Day


Decatur City Hall including the tax office will be closed on Friday, January 1.  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 January 4.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Lawyer taxes due tomorrow


Occupation taxes from lawyers practicing in Decatur, Georgia, are due by tomorrow, December 31, for tax year 2015.  The bill is $425 payable to City of Decatur from each lawyer.  The $425 charge is not per law firm, it is per individual attorney.  The tax is not a regulatory fee; the tax is strictly for revenue purposes and does not constitute regulation of the practice of law.  Revenues from the tax are used to provide quality services to the public.

Monday, December 28, 2015

State: tax rates in new cities can’t be capped


Georgia General Assembly legislative counsel Jeff Lanier says that property tax millage rates cannot be capped when new cities such as Brookhaven and Tucker are created. City officials retain the authority to increase tax rates even if a cap was written into the legislation or charter that created them. This news comes from the Atlanta Journal Constitution:
Cities have the power to raise property taxes and expand services, even when their charters attempt to impose limitations, according to legal opinions prepared for Georgia senators.
The opinions, cited in this week’s final report of a Senate task force on cityhood, said the Georgia Constitution gives city councils control over local taxes and service levels. Referendums seeking voter approval aren’t required before city councils take action, the opinions say.
Cities can use their “home rule” authority to remove millage rate caps, according to a legal opinion by Deputy Legislative Counsel Jeff Lanier. Millage caps were included in the legislation that created the cities of Brookhaven, Tucker and others... 

This legal opinion may put cold water on cityhood efforts because supporters can no longer guarantee a maximum tax rate.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Holiday schedule for Decatur City Hall


City Hall, including the tax office, will be closed on December 24 and 25.  Please note that if you haven't paid your second installment property tax bill for 2015, you have a grace period up until January 7.  Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Tax payments due today in Decatur


December 21 is the deadline for property tax payments in Decatur, Georgia. For real property taxes including land and buildings, payment is due for the second installment of 2015. Payment is also due for personal property taxes including business inventory for 2015. If you haven't paid yet, make your check payable to the City of Decatur, enclose your remittance coupon, and mail it to:

City of Decatur Lockbox
PO Box 945650
Atlanta, GA 30394-5650

We accept postmarks, so if you have your envelope postmarked today we'll know that you mailed it in time.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Geechee taxpayers sue state and county


Property owners on Sapelo Island are suing McIntosh County and the State of Georgia for discrimination and neglect. The lawsuit is based largely on the allegation that the property owners are paying county property taxes based on soaring assessments without receiving services in exchange. From the Atlanta Journal Constitution on Dec. 9: 
Fifty-seven Sapelo Island property owners and residents on Wednesday filed a lawsuit that contends discrimination and neglect by state and local authorities are contributing to the dissolution of one of the last remaining Gullah-Geechee communities in the nation.
The Gullah-Geechee residents are the descendants of slaves whose families have lived on Sapelo Island for more than two centuries. They have seen their numbers dwindle steadily over the years as the island — about 70 miles south of Savannah — has been converted into a vacation destination with luxury homes and resorts. 
All the while, Gullah-Geechee residents pay high property taxes but receive no basic services in return, the federal lawsuit said. Also, the only state-run ferry does not have disability access and has a schedule that makes it practically impossible for someone to live on the island and have a job on the mainland, the suit said. It was filed against a number of defendants, including the state of Georgia and McIntosh County. The governor’s office declined comment. McIntosh County manager Brett Cook did not return a phone call seeking comment. 
Reed Colfax, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said the county must provide services if it is collecting taxes from members of the Gullah-Geechee community. “There is no school, no ambulance, no trash pickup,” he said. “There are no services whatsoever.” Moreover, he added, the county’s high taxes led to some properties on the island being sold at tax auction and others who could not afford the taxes to sell their land…

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Personal property taxes due in 5 days


Businesses with inventory in Decatur owe their personal property taxes to the City no later than Dec. 21. Bills are based on property such as merchandise, office or work equipment, furniture, fixtures, or boats. This is not a tax on buildings or land. This is also separate from occupation tax bills which are paid in order to renew a business license.

Taxable values are based on what you or your tax preparer reported, or if you failed to file your own value, DeKalb assigned a value to you earlier this year. The deadline to appeal has passed. If you’ve closed my business or sold the property, the taxes must be paid and cannot be pro-rated. These taxes are owed to both DeKalb County and to the City of Decatur separately. 

At www.decaturgatax.com, you can search, view or re-print your City bill. Credit card payments are accepted with a 2.2 percent plus 30 cent third-party processing fee whether made in person or online. E-checks are accepted at no extra charge. You can pay by check or cash if you prefer. Taxpayers will be charged a 10 percent penalty plus 1 percent interest per month for payments made after a short grace period. Liens will be placed on accounts that remain delinquent.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Department of Revenue proposes to reorganize itself


The Georgia Department of Revenue (DOR), the state's tax collection agency, is proposing new rules that would reorganize the structure of the department. Under existing rules, DOR has nine separate divisions: Administrative; Central Audit; Electronic Data Processing; Field Services (includes Alcohol and Tobacco Tax); Income Tax; Internal Administration; Motor Vehicle; Property Tax; Sales and Use Tax (includes Motor Fuel Tax). Under the new rules, there would be 12 divisions: Alcohol & Tobacco, Audit, Commissioner’s Office, Compliance, Finance, Information Technology, Legal Affairs & Tax Policy, Local Government Services, Motor Vehicles, Office of Special Investigations, Processing, and Taxpayer Services. Comments on the proposed rules will be accepted by DOR until January 7.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Decatur bills 900 businesses


Decatur has invoiced nearly 900 local businesses for business license renewal fees for 2016. This is in addition to nearly 300 lawyers who were invoiced a month earlier. These occupation taxes can be paid online at decaturgatax.com. This website allows for payments by any major credit card, PayPal, or e-check with no extra fees.  If you own a business or practice a profession within Decatur's city limits and you have not received your invoice, please call 404-370-4100. Revenues from occupation taxes are used to provide quality services to the community.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Property tax payments due in 10 business days


Final payments for real and personal property taxes in Decatur for 2015 are due by December 21. Payments can be made online at www.decaturgatax.com by credit card with a convenience surcharge or by e-check with no extra fees.  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.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

State urges tax compliance for Airbnb rentals


Georgia lawmakers are recommending that state taxes be paid when Airbnb and similar rentals exceed 15 days.  In Decatur, this recommendation may be a moot point. Decatur’s unified development ordinance limits lodging at “bed and breakfasts” to no more than 14 consecutive nights.

That being said, homeowners who rent out rooms or accessory dwellings still have other administrative requirements to meet depending on their exact circumstances. For example, if a person in Decatur lives in a home and intends to rent out one or more of their guest rooms on a recurring basis for the purposes of making rental income, my office would require that person to obtain a home-based business license (after he or she has obtained zoning/use approval from our Planning or DEC departments), and the person may also be required to remit hotel/motel excise taxes to our city clerk.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

New rules expand training for appraisal vendors


Newly proposed rules would require training of county-level appraisal vendors and contractors by the Georgia Department of Revenue (DOR). Existing training requirements pertained to in-house county appraisal staff. Proposed rule 560-11-2-.28(7)(a) says:
Individuals performing services under assessment contracts to render advice or assistance to the county board of tax assessors in the assessment and equalization of taxes [sic] the establishment of property valuations, or the defense of such valuations shall adhere to state mandated appraisal laws and regulations required under Title 43 including any appraisal certification and training required under Title 43 of the Georgia Core [sic]. In addition, such individuals shall successfully complete 4 hours of approved appraisal courses annually… 
The proposed rules also include allowing PDF tax bills to be emailed to taxpayers, larger fines for mobile home owners who fail to display their tax decal, and administrative adjustments to appeal procedures. DOR is accepting comments on the proposed rules up until Dec. 21.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Georgia rated 5th tax friendliest state for seniors


Kiplinger has ranked Georgia as one of the top five states for senior taxpayers. Kiplinger reviewed the overall tax climate in the states to determine the ranking. A major factor behind the ranking was Georgia's income tax exemption for retirement income.  Here’s their summary for Georgia:
State Income Tax: 1% (on income up to $750/individual, $1,000/joint) - 6% (on income over $7,000 individual, $10,000/joint)
State Sales Tax: 4%
Estate Tax/Inheritance Tax: No/No
Ever wonder why so many retirees have Georgia on their minds? The Peach State's low tax climate may have something to do with it. Social Security income is exempt from state taxes, and so is as much as $35,000 of most types of retirement income for people ages 62 to 64. For those 65 and older, the exemption is $65,000 per taxpayer, or $130,000 per couple. Retirement income includes interest, dividends, net income from rental property, capital gains, royalties, pensions, annuities and the first $4,000 of earned income, such as wages.
The statewide sales tax is 4%, but jurisdictions may add up to 4% of their own taxes. The average combined state and local sales tax rate is 6.96%, according to the Tax Foundation. Food and prescription drugs are exempt.
The median property tax on the state's median home value of $141,600 is $1,352. Full-time residents qualify for a homestead exemption, and seniors may qualify for additional deductions from property taxes. 
For the other listings, check out Kiplinger’s slide show here.

Monday, November 30, 2015

AJC runs poll on property tax cap


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is running a poll to gauge support for a statewide cap on property assessments. The idea for a cap was floated earlier this year by officials including state senator Fran Millar and former state representative Ed Lindsey. Although this is an unscientific Internet poll, the results are interesting. So far, support for the proposal among 189 respondents is running at 72 percent:




Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Tax office closed for Thanksgiving


Decatur City Hall including the tax office will be closed on Nov. 26-27 for Thanksgiving.  If you need tax or business license information over the holiday weekend, please visit www.decaturgatax.com.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Attorneys General push for faster EMV adoption


Eight states and the District of Columbia are lobbying major credit card companies to rollout more secure credit cards on a faster basis. They are also arguing that in-person purchases should require PINs rather than signatures for authorization. From Government Technology magazine:

(TNS) -- Connecticut State Attorney General George Jepsen announced Monday that he is urging major credit-card processors nationwide to roll out new technology as soon as possible to help reduce data breaches affecting consumers.
Jepsen and eight other attorneys general from across the nation said in a letter Monday to companies including MasterCard, Visa, Discover Financial Services and Bank of America that they would like to see chip and PIN technology implementation speeded up. These technologies are considered to be more secure than the magnetic-stripe methods normally employed for credit cards as well as the chip-and-signature Europay, MasterCard and Visa specifications currently being implemented. 
"Over the last few years, breaches at major retailers that involved credit and debit card information have really shown a giant spotlight at the inherent weakness and vulnerability of magnetic strip cards even when the cards are lost or stolen," Jepsen said in a statement. The attorneys general said local businesses face financial and reputational risks stemming from loss of consumer trust after breaches.
Jepsen said other countries have proven the advantages of chip-and-PIN cards. "Consumers in Connecticut and across the country deserve access to the absolute best that the industry has to offer," Jepsen said. "Right now, that is chip and PIN, and I believe it's my responsibility to advocate on their behalf for it." 
Unfortunately, according to Jepsen, most U.S. chip cards rely on signatures rather than PINs, and these are easier to forge or copy...

My opinion is that faster implementation would be easier said than done. While the credit card companies have been and could continue issuing cards with chips, the bigger backlog is in merchants obtaining certified, validated hardware to read the chip and PIN data, and then to have that data transmitted or imported into their accounts receivable software.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Businesses have one week left to submit E-Verify papers


Georgia businesses with more than 10 employees have one week left to prove that they participate in E-Verify, the federal program that checks the eligibility of employees to work in the U.S.

Local revenue and regulatory officials across the state will be reporting the compliance status of all businesses and contractors to the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts in December. Their reports must include the E-Verify status of businesses that they have licensed in the past year with a cut-off date of Nov. 30, 2015.

To illustrate, if a business with more than 10 employees has a license in Decatur and if that business has not previously filed an E-Verify affidavit or confirmed an E-Verify number on file, then the Decatur Revenue Division will be reporting the business’s non-compliance to the Department of Audits. If you operate a business in Decatur and you are not sure of your compliance status, please call my office at 404-370-4100.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Super lien holders not necessarily entitled to excess funds


There are circumstances in which a super lien holder should not automatically receive excess funds from a tax sale according to a Georgia Court of Appeals ruling in the case of DLT List v. M7.  Brad Hutchins and Allie Jett from Weissman, Nowack, Curry & Wilco explain:



A super lien is created when a creditor to a property owner redeems a property tax debt before the original owner can redeem it.  Part of the reason the creditor does this is to obtain the excess funds.  This ruling could make it less desirable for investors to attempt to acquire a super lien in the first place.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

City Hall open today


City offices including the tax office will be open today from 8:00 until 5:00 p.m.  That being said, if you are making a payment to the tax office, please be aware that it will take at least an additional day for your check or e-check to clear since the post office and banks are closed today.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Georgia and Atlanta offer tax incentives for General Electric


Tax credits for creating new jobs and property tax deals are among the incentives being discussed to lure GE’s headquarters to Atlanta. The Atlanta Journal Constitution has an article about it here. Grant money may also be available to GE.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Super liens under scrutiny


WSB recently reported on the potential for abuse in the “super lien” process for foreclosing on tax delinquent properties sooner than state law normally allows.

If a property in Georgia becomes severely delinquent in taxes, the typical process is for the tax authority to bring the property for tax sale. During the sale, the minimum bid is the amount of taxes that are owed, and the bidding can go higher than that. The original owner may apply for the excess funds (the amount that was bid at sale in excess of the taxes owed), and the owner has a year in which he or she can redeem the property for the full amount bid plus a 20 percent premium. If the prior owner does not redeem the debt, the tax sale buyer can foreclose the right to redeem.

Due to the Georgia Supreme Court’s ruling in National Tax Funding v. Harpagon several years ago, an alternate method has been established in which foreclosure can occur by a third party earlier than the one year norm. This third party is another lienholder, such as a person or company that holds a medical lien or home maintenance lien on the same person who owned the property sold at tax auction. This lienholder or creditor is entitled to redeem the property. Once they have redeemed it, they are said to possess a “first lien” or “super lien” on the process. They are able to bar any further right to redeem by initiating foreclosure immediately.

Supporters of super liens say that they can be used to restore properties to tax-generating status faster. Critics say it harms the original owner’s ability to redeem the property themselves.

As tax collector for Decatur, we had a difficult situation where a tax sale buyer asserted that they did not have to pay delinquent city taxes because they had acquired a super lien by redeeming a property that had become delinquent in county taxes. Although super liens can help somebody who holds a secondary lien, one of my concerns is that other lien holders (including city governments) will not be made whole if there are not sufficient excess funds at sale.

There is definitely room for improvement and reform in the aftermath of Harpagon. WSB reports that Rep. Turner (R-Holly Springs) is advocating for legislation which would extend the redemption period to almost two years. Whether his proposal strikes the right balance remains to be seen.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

School bond referendum passes


The Decatur school bond referendum was approved yesterday by a vote of 78 percent to 22 percent. Beginning in 2016, the amount that property taxes will increase because of the school bond will depend on individual property values. The school bond millage rate will probably be 2.69 mills. Projections of how this will affect tax bills can be found on the City Schools of Decatur website here.  Taxes for a property appraised by DeKalb County at $250,000 would go up by about $335; taxes for a home worth $350,000 would go up by about $470; and taxes for a house valued at $450,000 would go up by about $600 a year.

A school bond referendum also passed in Pike County, Georgia, yesterday. Special local option sales tax referendums were also approved in Augusta, Hall County, Baldwin County, and Putnam County.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Decatur bills $688K in personal property taxes


Nearly 400 local businesses with inventory valued at $7,500 or more recently received a personal property tax bill from the City of Decatur. The amount billed totaled $687,916. About 60 percent of personal property tax revenue will go to the City Schools of Decatur and the remainder will be applied toward City funds.  The biggest bills in Decatur for 2015 went to Comcast, Noble I (Courtyard Marriott), CVS, and DeVry.

Payments, which can be made online at www.decaturgatax.com, are due no later than Dec. 21.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Decatur sends bills to over 250 lawyers for occupation taxes


Lawyer invoicing:
Decatur sent bills to local attorneys late last week for occupational taxes owed for 2015. If you practice locally and you do not receive a bill by November 6, please contact our office to confirm your account information and mailing address. The bills are based on existing city records and state bar directory records. The annual bill is for $400 plus a $25 administration fee. Revenues are used to provide quality services to the public. If you no longer practice law in the City, please let us know. You may also check the state bar directory at gabar.org and update their address record for you if necessary.

Payment options:
Attorneys are encouraged to pay this tax online. Our website allows for payments by Visa, MasterCard, Discover, American Express, or PayPal. No additional fees are charged for paying online—just the $425 amount. There is no registration process, no login or user name, no passwords, and no PINs. Just go to www.decaturgatax.com, click on “Occupation Tax” on the upper left, select 2015 as the year, enter your name as it appears on your bill and click “Go.” Once you’ve accessed your record, you’ll see your option to pay. Payment is due by Dec. 31, 2015. If you prefer, payments can be made in person at 509 N. McDonough St. by cash, check, or credit card; or by mail to City of Decatur, PO Box 220, 30031. If paying by mail, please enclose the bottom portion of your invoice so we can apply your payment to the right record.

New prompt-pay incentive
Decatur’s occupation tax ordinance has been amended recently. If you pay your tax by Nov. 30, the City of Decatur will waive the $25 administration fee. Please pay online or mail in a payment of $400 by Nov. 30 to take advantage of this discount. Payment of $425 will be necessary if paying after Dec. 1.

Authority to tax:
Some attorneys practicing law in Decatur have questioned the City’s occupation tax on the basis of Barnes v. City of Atlanta. Barnes holds that such taxes must be revenue measures only, not regulatory in nature. Decatur’s occupation tax ordinance expressly states that the occupation tax is levied “for revenue purposes only and is not for regulatory purposes” (Sec. 22-15).

Friday, October 30, 2015

The breakdown of a tax dollar for LaVista Hills properties


The City of Decatur often provides residents with information about how the average tax dollar is allocated (ie, how much goes to the schools versus government operations). I thought it might be helpful to provide prospective residents of LaVista Hills with a rough estimate along the same lines if their cityhood initiative is approved in the Nov. 3 referendum.

Currently, the combined county millage rate for unincorporated property owners in DeKalb is 44.54 mills. Of that total, 47 percent of tax dollars for non-homesteaded property goes to DeKalb County, and 53 percent goes toward DeKalb schools. The breakdown would vary for properties with homestead exemptions.

If cityhood is approved, homeowners in LaVista Hills would continue receiving property tax bills from the DeKalb County tax commissioner, but the allocation would change. Instead of reflecting taxes based on millage rates for unincorporated DeKalb, the homeowners would receive bills based on adjusted millage rates for county services and a separate millage rate for LaVista Hills. The tax bills would continue including county charges for general operations, hospitals (Grady), county bonds, fire service, debt service for unincorporated bonds that predate cityhood, and for DeKalb County schools.

If cityhood had already been in effect for 2015, we could assume an adjusted current year combined county-school-city millage rate of 43.4 mills. This would be based on the combined 44.54 mills minus 4.69 mills for county police service which LaVista Hills would take over themselves, minus 1.45 mills for special county services which the city would take over, plus 5 mills for operations of the new city as stipulated by the proposed charter for LaVista Hills. The adjusted breakdown of a non-homesteaded property owner’s tax dollar under that scenario would be 33.8 percent going to DeKalb, 54.7 percent going to DeKalb schools, and 11.5 percent going toward the new city.

In other words, unlike Decatur where the bulk of a net tax dollar is allocated to the city and city schools, LaVista Hills property owners would continue paying the bulk of their property taxes to DeKalb and its school system. However, those figures would be subject to change pending actual future year millage rates, homestead exemptions and HOST credits, and would vary by individual tax bill.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

New bookkeeping rule shines sunlight on tax breaks



A new accounting rule would require local governments nationwide to disclose of how much tax revenue was forgone by virtue of abatement or payment-in-lieu-of-tax agreements between development authorities and property owners.

Such agreements have been a sore spot in Georgia for school systems in counties where development authorities have offered tax incentives to attract or retain businesses to their districts. The new rule should help with transparency about those tax incentives, and there is very good illustration of how the process will work under the Governmental Accounting Standards Board’s new rule.

That said, I can envision a couple complicating factors that limit the usefulness of the data. For one thing, these calculations may not really reflect foregone revenues, because if the incentives were not offered, then the business may have moved elsewhere.

Secondly, at least in Georgia, the calculations will require coordination between several different government entities and it may take a few iterations before everybody gets on the same page. If the calculation is a reporting requirement when a local government’s financial statements are being audited, the auditors are probably going to ask the county or city accountant, and they’re not going to know the answer because this data doesn’t exist yet. They will reach out to the tax commissioner who has no reason to calculate bills for property owners that do not receive tax bills. Then the tax commissioner’s office will need to calculate a theoretical bill based on the assessment then report that back to the city or county for inclusion in the audit.

Thirdly, this reporting requirement really only addresses abatements after the horse is out of the barn. School and local government elected officials won’t be able to do much other than complain about how much taxes the development authorities agreed to abate in the prior year. Georgia lawmakers have been considering proposals over the last year or two that would involve more advanced notification and even consent of school boards before such deals are struck.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Welcome back, Holly!



Congratulations to Holly Jackson on her new position as Administrative Services Assistant with the City of Decatur. In her new role, Holly is working for both the City personnel office and the tax office. This position was created in the FY15-16 budget. After a competitive hiring process, Holly was selected in August.

Holly had worked for the City of Decatur from 2010 to 2012 in the Revenue Division and in the former Planning, Zoning, and Inspections office. Holly is a Decatur resident and has two children who graduated from the Decatur school system.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Muscogee school board supports ending tax freeze


Political figures in Columbus have been pushing for a repeal of Muscogee County’s property tax freeze.  The school board there has signed on with the proposal to “thaw” the freeze.  If approved during the 2016 legislative session, assessments in Muscogee would begin rising with market in 2017 rather than being capped at a prior year's value.

The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer reports:
The majority of the Muscogee County School Board supports allowing voters to decide next year whether Columbus will thaw its property tax freeze.
In a 6-3 vote during Monday night's meeting, the board approved a resolution that requests the local legislative delegation to ask the Georgia General Assembly for permission to place Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson's proposal on the Nov. 8, 2016, ballot...
DeKalb County also has a property tax freeze but it hasn’t been as controversial here as in Columbus.  The DeKalb freeze was extended until 2021 during the 2015 session of the General Assembly.  The City of Decatur does not use frozen values in the calculation of tax bills; it uses non-freeze values from DeKalb.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Decatur wins award for business license website

From left to right, Calvin Rhodes (chief information officer, State of Georgia), Ryan Wilson (VC3), Claire Miller (Children & Youth Services and Decatur Technology Committee), Russ Madison (Revenue Division & Technology Committee), and Shaun Shabazz (Revenue Division).

Decatur has received an Innovation Showcase 2015 award from the Georgia Technology Authority for two projects including the City’s business license renewal website at www.decaturgatax.com/BusinessLicense. The award was presented during the annual Georgia Digital Government Summit on Sept. 22.

The story behind the award is that the City of Decatur Revenue Division needed a way to make the license renewal process quick and easy for 1,700 business owners. The division looked to technology, and its online business license project culminated in the fall of 2013 with the launch of the website in partnership with Sturgis Web Services and Paypal. The website allows businesses to renew their license online without having to mail a paper check. The website also enables businesses to print their own license if they choose, after the payment has been applied to their account. Payments can be made by credit card or echeck with no additional fees charged to the business. The website was optimized for mobile devices in 2014.

Prior to the new website, a business could renew its business license in Decatur only by mailing a check along with notarized immigration affidavits or by physically taking printed materials to City Hall from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. Businesses usually had to wait 7-10 business days to receive new licenses in the mail.

In addition, data about business licenses was available only internally. Businesses wanting information about their own records had to visit, call, fax or email the city’s Revenue Division. Customers had no easy way to access information about businesses they patronize, and anyone who wanted to know if a business was operating with a current, valid business license had to contact the city or submit an open records request. Depending on what they wanted to know – such as the business owner’s name and contact information – additional research may have been required by staff. Other city departments had to contact the Revenue Division if they needed information about a business.

Information about the other Georgia Technology Authority award winners and their projects can be found at http://gta.georgia.gov/technology-innovation-showcase.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

North Georgia voters consider tax measures for infrastructure projects


In addition to the City Schools of Decatur bond referendum on Nov. 3, 2015, several other North Georgia jurisdictions are considering infrastructure projects that could affect property taxes or sales taxes.

Like Decatur, Pike County will have a school bond referendum.

Hall County and Baldwin County school boards are proposing special purpose local option sales taxes for education. Augusta is considering a seventh renewal of its special purpose local option sales tax. If the SPLOST is renewed, Augusta's sales tax will stay at 8 percent rather than falling to 7 percent.  Putnam County is also considering a SPLOST.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Recap of Decatur’s tax sale

Deputy Police Chief Keith Lee presides over Decatur's 2015 tax sale
During the City's annual tax sale on Aug. 4, 2015, the Revenue Division auctioned 13 tax deeds to satisfy delinquent taxes owed. Four of the properties were bid on by investors, five were bid on by the City for potential greenspace, and four properties received no bids and will remain on the City's delinquent list. No owner-occupied homes were among the properties auctioned.

The City's collection activities are an exhaustive process lasting at least seven months and involving at least seven different attempts to notify the property owner of the repercussions for nonpayment. Tax sales are a crucial component in maintaining the City's 99.9 percent collection rate for real property taxes.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Open for Columbus Day


City Hall, including the property tax office, will be open for business on Monday, October 12, from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.  The DeKalb County tax commissioner's and tax assessors office should be open too.  Because post offices and banks will be closed, please note that if you attempt to mail or deliver us a payment, it will take an additional day before the payment clears.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Government agencies may "wait to see what happens" with EMV technology before upgrading systems


As credit card acceptance begins changing from magnetic stripe reading to chip-and-PIN transactions at retailers nationwide, a prominent e-government payment provider is advising government offices to wait before rolling out new systems. NIC Services says that government entities generally experience less fraudulent payments than the private sector, and that government merchants can sit on the sidelines unless particular agencies have experienced high rates of fraud or chargebacks. From Government Technology magazine on October 2: 
...As for whether government should rush to make the switch, Mukesh Patel, president of NIC Services, told Government Technology in July that his company is recommending that its public-sector partners analyze their history of chargebacks and fraudulent transactions, and then make a business decision as to whether it’s beneficial to invest heavily in the terminals.
“Just from our experience, with the 28 to 30 states we work with, government services in general don’t tend to have a high fraudulence rate," he said, "because as a citizen you wouldn’t go to your DMV and renew your own driver’s license with a stolen card. It would be very easy to find out who you are.” 
NIC’s recommendation is that unless an office encounters a high incidence of payment card fraud, they should wait to see what happens in the industry...

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

City endorses school exemption plan


During their meeting Monday night, the City Commission unanimously approved a resolution supporting the school board’s intentions to exempt homeowners age 65 and older from school taxes. The school system is seeking support from state senators and representatives in the area to carry the proposal forward in the Georgia General Assembly during its 2016 session. Final approval would require a majority vote in a public referendum.

Currently, homeowners become exempt from school taxes in Decatur when they turn 80 if they make less than $40,000 a year. School taxes represent about 60 percent of an average tax bill. I estimate that about 1,000 property owners would qualify for an age-65 school exemption.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Local governments weigh chip-and-PIN options


The new computer chips in consumers’ credit cards don’t just affect how retailers accept payments, but how government agencies accept credit card payments for fees, taxes, and merchandise. As of this month, if a consumer presents a card with a chip to a merchant (either private or public sector) and the merchant is only capable of reading the magnetic strip rather than the chip, then the merchant accepts the liability if fraud results from that transaction. An industry expert has written a piece in American City & County’s blog about how this shift in liability affects local governments: 
…City and county governments have several options for how they respond to the October deadline.
Deadline is not a mandate
Although the deadline shifts responsibility for fraudulent credit card charges from the card issuer to merchants that haven’t begun accepting chip cards, state and municipal governments are not required to have EMV-capable point-of-purchase terminals installed by Oct. 1. Credit card companies’ switch to microchipped cards will be only about 70 percent complete by year-end, according to CreditCard.com, and the new cards will include magnetic strips as well as chips, so agencies’ existing point-of-sale terminals will remain viable for the foreseeable future. There is still plenty of time for city and county governments to research the issue and determine what timing is best for them to convert to new EMV card devices. 
Cost could be an issue 
In part, that decision involves evaluating how quickly budgets allow for an equipment upgrade. Basic EMV-capable pay terminals start at around $200 each and go up from there, so purchasing and installing new equipment can represent a substantial capital expense. Further, EMV conversion is more complex than simply unplugging a current card reader and replacing it with a new one. The transition requires new back-end code and a certification process that can take several months…

Monday, September 28, 2015

DeKalb County reminds taxpayers of deadline


The following item appeared in the Sept. 23 edition of the DeKalb Neighbor:
Property tax payments Claudia G. Lawson, DeKalb Tax Commissioner, is reminding DeKalb County taxpayers that the due date for the first installment of 2015 real estate and personal property taxes is Sept. 30.
First installment taxes, which are not received or postmarked by the Sept. 30 deadline will incur a 5 percent late payment penalty which applies by law. It is important to note that if your payment is mailed, the postmark or cancellation stamp from the U.S. Postal Service is the only accepted evidence of timely mailing. 
There is also a drop box on the front and side of the central office at 4380 Memorial Drive in Decatur [sic], which may be used for last minute drop-offs.
Another convenient option is to pay property taxes by electronic check or credit card.
Property owners with questions should contact the Tax Commissioner’s Office at 404-298-4000 or email proptax@dekalbcountyga.gov for assistance.

DeKalb County property taxes are billed and paid separately from City of Decatur property taxes.  DeKalb sends one bill annually with two remittance stubs, the first being due this Wednesday.  Decatur sends two distinct bills annually; the first installment was due on June 1.

Monday, September 21, 2015

City manager proposes fee waiver for senior homeowners


The City Commission will consider a proposal tonight from city manager Peggy Merriss to offer a credit on bills for eligible seniors. Under the proposal, homeowners in Decatur over the age of 70 who have the S-3 homestead exemption may be eligible for a waiver of municipal fees for garbage pick-up and storm water utility services for 2015.

The typical owner of a single-family dwelling in Decatur was charged $240 for sanitation services and $75 for storm water drainage during our 1st installment billing of 2015. Some property owners, such as condo and town home owners, may have been charged less for fees based on the characteristics of their property. The proposal would waive the fees that the property owner was charged, resulting in (assuming that the charges have been paid) a credit on the taxpayer’s 2nd installment bill.

The measure is designed to help seniors cope with the cost of rising property assessments. More information about the context and reasons for this proposal are spelled out in Ms. Merriss’s memo to the City Commission here.  The meeting will take place at 7:30 tonight at City Hall.

Update:  The fee waiver was approved unanimously be the City Commission on Monday night.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

State senator pitches a cap on property assessments


In 2014, Sen. Fran Millar sponsored Senate Bill 293 to change procedures for appealing property values. That bill did not pass the state house. In 2015, Millar revisited the issue House Bill 202, which incorporated some proposals from the bill the prior year. HB 202 passed both chambers of the General Assembly and signed by the governor. 

For 2016, Millar says he’ll make another proposal for more reforms to assessments and appeals. He intends to prohibit boards of equalization from increasing property assessments based on information found by assessors while the property is under appeal.

Millar also says that, “we need to look at a cap on how much an assessment can increase in a given year.” Similar comments have been made by former state representative Ed Lindsey and Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Kyle Wingfield. They floated caps on assessment increases anywhere from 2 to 3 percent a year, while Millar has not specified a percentage.

Here’s what Millar wrote in an op-ed for the AJC a few weeks ago:
First, a Board of Tax Assessors cannot change a person’s tax assessment once it is published. One county is telling its Board of Equalization — the panel you face at an appeal hearing — that it has the power to raise a taxpayer’s assessment if evidence is presented that justifies such an increase. This needs to be prohibited by statute.
Second, one county is threatening to send letters to taxpayers that if they pursue an appeal, the Board of Equalization may increase the assessment without limitation. The taxpayer would be given a notice to sign and return if they wish to withdraw their appeal. This attempt to kill appeals also needs to be prohibited by statute. 
Third, we need to look at a cap on how much an assessment can increase in a given year. I am not sure what the correct percentage should be, but discussion needs to take place on this topic. Your thoughts are welcome.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Columbus mayor pushes to end property value freeze


The mayor of Georgia's second biggest city is urging residents to support an elimination of a property value freeze instituted in Columbus 35 years ago.  Taxpayers with the freeze keep the same property value for tax purposes unless they make improvements or sell the property.  Teresa Tomlinson argues that the system is unfair and discourages homeowners from making improvements and new families from moving in.  WRBL reports:
Columbus Mayor hopes City Council backs ‘thaw’ of property tax freeze 
COLUMBUS, Ga. – Mayor Teresa Tomlinson has wrapped up her “Thaw the Freeze” public forums. Tomlinson is hoping to add a referendum to the November 2016 General Election ballot.
Her proposal is to “thaw” the city’s property tax freeze that has been on the books since 1982. In basic terms, the freeze means when you buy a house in Columbus, your home value is frozen from that day on. 
Mayor Tomlinson said it’s had a depressing effect on the city’s economy. “With those types of findings, we need to take a very serious look at what sort of community we want to be in the future,” Tomlinson said. “Do we want to have a tax system in our community which deters people from moving in, penalizes people from moving up or down-sizing?”
This was the catalyst in her decision to host the public forums — to see how they community feels about what she calls an “outdated” tax system. 
Those that are most opposed to it are those who created the original tax freeze,” the mayor said. “And I think some of that is obviously because they felt like they did something tremendous at the time. And I think it was tremendous…at the time.” 
As the housing needs of society have changed, so should the tax system, the Mayor would argue... 
But changing a system that’s over 30 years old, won’t be easy, as the City Council has done battle with this issue before. 
“A lot of the council has been through the wars of the past and I’m sure they’re very apprehensive about teeing this up again because it’s been so divisive in the past,” Tomlinson said. “And I hope they will allow the citizens the opportunity to direct our future.” 
Meanwhile, opponents said this jeopardizes their security and they fear a ripple effect on other taxes may come from this change. 
As for next steps, the City Council would have to request that the referendum be put on the November ballot. The Georgia State Legislature would also have to approve it...

DeKalb County also offers a property tax freeze, but the freeze here seems to enjoy much broader and bipartisan support than the freeze in Columbus-Muscogee.

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.



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.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Now hiring


Decatur is searching for a new administrative assistant who will alternate duties between the Revenue Division and the city's human resources office.  Major job duties and requirements for the position are outlined here.  Applications are due by this Friday.  The position was approved with the adoption of Decatur's budget for the new fiscal year which begins today.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Georgia Court of Appeals rules against tax sale buyers


Two people who bought multiple properties at tax sales in Newton County appealed and then sued to get a lower assessment on those properties. They argued that the amount they bid at the tax sales should have served as the basis for their assessed value the following year. The Georgia Court of Appeals has ruled against the buyers.  The court determined that tax sales doesn't constitute an arm's length, bona fide sale because 1) the original owner has a year to redeem the property, and 2) the original owner is not a party to the sale.

In training sessions and conferences I've attended, officials from the state Department of Revenue always emphasize that fair market value is what a willing buyer and a willing seller would agree to at an arm's length sale. In my opinion, a person losing their property at a tax sale isn't normally "willing" nor a "seller." So this seems like a pretty good decision to me. From the Newton Citizen last week:
COVINGTON — The Georgia Court of Appeals has upheld a ruling in favor of the Newton County Tax Assessor’s Office, affirming that a tax sale does not qualify as an “arm’s length, bona fide” transaction for the purpose of setting property tax values. 
Newton County Attorney Tommy Craig advised commissioners of the court’s ruling at the June 16 Board of Commissioners meeting. “I promised you we would win this case, and now we have,” he said.
According to the Appeals Court, property owners W.D. Ballard and Nancy Mock had purchased 22 parcels of land in Newton County at tax sales during 2012. In April 2013, the Tax Assessor’s Office sent Ballard and Mock the 2013 tax values of the properties, which did not match the 2012 tax sale purchase prices. Ballard and Mock unsuccessfully appealed to the Newton County Board of Equalization and to Newton County Superior Court, which granted summary judgment to the Board of Equalization. 
Ballard and Mock had argued that under Georgia law the 2013 assessed value should have been frozen at the tax sale value. According to the law, ” … the transaction amount of the most recent arm’s length, bona fide sale in any year shall be the maximum allowable fair market value for the next taxable year.” 
However, the trial court noted that the owner of property sold at a tax sale has a one-year right to redeem the property, which would essentially rescind the tax sale, and that the purchaser in a tax sale does not receive a fee simple title to the property. In addition, the court ruled that since the owner is not a participant in the sale, there is no arm’s length, bona fide sale. The Appeals Court upheld those findings. 
According to the Tax Assessor’s Office, Mock and Ballard purchased the 22 parcels, five of which included a house, between March 2012 and December 2012...

If the court had ruled the other way, it could have opened the door to confusion or discrepancies for properties that are sold in tax sales by a county and by a city during the same year.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Most metro-area governments hold millage rates steady


Several of the largest metro-Atlanta governments and school boards are keeping the same millage rates in 2015 as they had in 2014.  Gwinnett County and its school system, Atlanta Public Schools, Cobb county schools, Cherokee County Schools, and the City of Roswell all appear to be keeping the same property tax rate this year as last year.  However, growth in property values in some of those jurisdictions means that some of them may have advertised property tax increases under state law.

A few jurisdictions in the area are actually proposing millage rate decreases.  Those include the City of DecaturDeKalb County, and Henry County.  But those millage rate reductions may be offset or cancelled out on tax bills by increases in property values.

The Forsyth County school system is proposing an increase in their millage rate of 1 mill.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Governor vetoes tax credits for insurance companies


After approval by the General Assembly, Gov. Nathan Deal signed almost every tax-related bill that made it to his desk this year.  The main exception was House Bill 439, which would have created up to $55 million in insurance premium tax credits for insurance companies that invest in low-income communities in Georgia.  Deal vetoed HB 439 saying that it "would have too much of an impact on the general fund."  The Georgia Budget and Policy Institute called the proposal "complex," "unaccountable," and a "bad investment" that has worked poorly when tried in other states.  GBPI estimated that the credits would have totaled up to $139 million over the next seven years.

Insurance companies pay annual insurance premium taxes to the state which are partly distributed to cities and counties.  The City of Decatur receives approximately $1 million annually in insurance premium taxes.  Insurance companies also pay occupation taxes directly to Georgia's local governments if they write policies in those jurisdictions.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

City offers payment grace period until June 15


Property taxes in Decatur were due June 1. But the City offers a 10-business day grace period during which no penalties or interest apply to late payments. That grace period will end on Monday, June 15.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Property tax payments due today, June 1


Real property tax payments for Decatur's first installment billing for 2015 are due today.  Payment for commercial sanitation services including dumpster and cart service for 2015 is also due no later than June 1.

If you recently made a payment but you don't see that payment reflected on our website, please keep in mind that, even for in-person payments, it may take 7 to 10 business days after your check has cleared before your payment is applied to your account. We honor postmarks, so don’t worry about additional interest accruing if you mailed your payment in on time.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

DeKalb County's property assessment notices on the way


By Andrea Arnold

The DeKalb County Tax Assessor’s office will be mailing annual assessment notices to property owners beginning Friday, May 29th.  These notices communicate 2015 property values set by DeKalb County for residential and commercial property.  Based on reports from the DeKalb County Appraiser’s Office, the total value of property within the City of Decatur increased 20% over last year’s total property value.  Thirty percent of the increase is due to new property being added to the tax digest.  The remainder is due to revaluation of existing properties.  This increase is consistent with residential sales data for the City of Decatur as well as increases in property values in other cities within DeKalb County.

The assessment notice will include information on how to appeal the County’s determination of property value.  There are specific deadlines associated with the process so please look for more information about the property appraisal process on the County’s website at www.dekalbcountyga.gov.  We encourage you to review the appeal information and to file an appeal if you believe the value established by the County is not correct.

In response to the increase in property values, the Decatur City Commission is considering a one mill decrease in the millage rate.  The revenue from property taxes supports the City’s budget which funds operations such as sidewalk maintenance and construction, community parks and playgrounds, and police and fire services. The City’s budget for the next year has been presented to the City Commission will be asked to vote on the budget at their meeting on Monday, June 15, 2015.

Public hearings on the millage rate and budget are scheduled for Monday, June 1, 2015 at 7:30 p.m., Monday, June 8, 2015 at 6:00 p.m., and Monday, June 15, 2015 at 7:30 p.m.  All hearings will be held at Decatur City Hall, 509 N. McDonough Street.  The budget is available for review on the City’s website www.decaturga.com/budget, at Decatur City Hall and the Decatur Library.

Homeowner helps explain property taxes


Decatur resident Hans Utz has written a summary over on Decaturish explaining the major factors that determine your property tax bill in town.  Check it out here!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

2015 millage rate recommended to City Commission


During last week’s City Commission meeting, Assistant City Manager Andrea Arnold presented a proposed budget and City millage rates for 2015.  The millage rate proposal is for a 1 mill reduction.  This would be the result of a half mill reduction in the general fund millage rate and a half mill decrease in the bond millage rate.

However, the proposed tax rate reduction does not necessarily mean that your property taxes will decrease in 2015 compared to 2014.  There are a few other factors that could affect your bill.  1)  The school system has not recommended a school millage rate yet, which affects for about three-fifths of the tax liability for most Decatur property owners.  2)  Your property value this year could increase based on the determination of the DeKalb County property assessor’s office.  Summary reports from DeKalb indicate 15 percent growth in property values in Decatur due to revaluation, and 5 percent new growth.

The projected digest growth means that total property taxes paid to Decatur for tax year 2015 will exceed taxes collected for tax year 2014.  Due to state law, the City is required to advertise the proposed millage rate reduction as a 5 percent tax increase once the overall digest growth is factored in.  For more information, take a look at the tax rate announcement on the City’s webpage here.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

If paying by e-check, please remit by tomorrow


If you are planning to pay your first installment Decatur property tax bill with an electronic check on our website at www.decaturgatax.com, I encourage you to make your payment today or tomorrow. Like paper checks, e-checks can take three to five business days to clear the bank. It's not an immediate debit. With Memorial Day coming up on Monday, that will further lengthen the amount of time it could take for your e-check to clear. Our formal payment deadline this installment is June 1, 2015. 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.

Friday, May 15, 2015

15 days until Tax Day in Decatur





​​June 1 will be tax day in Decatur—the deadline for residents and businesses to pay the first installment of property taxes to the City for 2015.  Although bills were sent out in April, most taxpayers (about 75 percent) will make a payment to the Revenue Division during the last couple weeks of May.  Division staff Tanya Sims, Shaun Shabazz, Gina Amos, and Russ Madison are ready to welcome you to City Hall!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Tax credit cap raised for historic restorations


Gov. Deal signed House Bill 308 on Tuesday, which raises a $300,000 tax credit cap for historic rehabilitation projects up to $5 to $10 million.  The increase is less than what some advocates had originally proposed in an earlier version of the bill which would have increased the cap to $60 million.  Officials, particularly in the Savannah area, see the increase as a powerful economic development tool.  WSAV reports:

Last but Not Least; Historic Property Tax Credit Law to Give Big Bucks for Restorations
SAVANNAH, GA - It was the last bill to meet the Governor's pen on Decision Day but the historic income tax credit bill is now law and has one Savannah representative excited.
Millions of dollars in tax credits can now go towards restoring some of the largest historical properties in the state of Georgia.
"All this bill is trying to do is bring the developers to ground zero so that the significant cost of renovating these projects, getting an investor to come to the table and put the kind of money it's going to take and capital to get this where it needs to be," says local state representative Ron Stephens who sponsored and wrote the bill.
Locally, historic groups see only growth of big projects coming to Savannah with this new law.
"Now we're gonna have a mechanism to entice, incentivize investors, property owners, buyers to get involved in this get developers engaged in preservation," says Historic Savannah Foundation President Daniel Carey who's non profit helped lobby heavily for the bill.
The governor signed the bill into law Tuesday. It removes the old 300,000 dollar tax credit cap for individual historic structure restorations to upwards of 5 to 10 million dollars or a quarter of the aggregate renovation costs.
These caps Carey says move the state in a right direction to compete with neighboring states in the South.
"We were losing business and we were losing revenue, we were losing preservation projects to those surrounding states so now we have a competitive advantage," Carey says.
In the case of Savannah, it can have a huge impact on the restoration and development of the more than 200 million dollar hotel project slated for the West River Street Georgia Power Plant. Now the Kessler Collection restoring the space could see close to 25 million dollars in aggregate credits over a year for the development...