Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Grace period expires for business license fees

City of Decatur business license payments were due by Jan. 31, but the City provided a 90-day grace period before late fees are added.

That grace period expires on April 30, and penalties will be applied against businesses that haven’t paid by the end of this month.

Also due with the payment is an affidavit verifying the business license applicant's legal status in the United States.  This is a new requirement for 2010 under the state law of Georgia.

For more information about business licensing in Decatur, please visit this page of the City’s website.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Where is my exemption? Reading your tax bill

Decatur property owners should receive their first installment 2010 property tax bills in the mail today or tomorrow. The most common question we receive is whether or not you have the homestead exemption, and where it’s reflected on your bill.

If you have the homestead exemption, the taxable value of your home is reduced by $20,000 across three different “funds” on your tax bill as follows in this example:

If you see those $20,000 figures, you have the homestead exemption. If you have more exemptions because of age and income, those figures will be larger. If the exemptions column shows all zeroes, there is no exemption on your account.

For this installment, the basic homestead exemption reduces your tax bill by $115.95 (regardless of your assessed value).

Sticking with the example in the graphic, assume that the DeKalb County property appraisal department determined that the value of your home is $200,000. The City of Decatur applies a 50 percent assessment of $100,000. With the homestead exemption, your City of Decatur property tax bill for the first installment of 2010 would be $1,833.80. Without the homestead exemption, it would be $1,949.75.

For more information you can read the tax insert we sent with your bill or, as always, you can contact us directly for help.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Get Some Green for Going Green: GA Power Home Performance with Energy Star

This is the second post regarding tax incentives that are available for Decaturites that are "going green." This information is brought to you by the Decatur Environmental Sustainability Board. You can read our last post about the Georgia Appliance Rebate Program by clicking HERE.

Georgia Power- Home Performance with Energy Star Rebate Program
Georgia Power offers up to $1900 in rebates to customers who hire "Home Performance with ENERGY STAR Contractors" to make energy efficiency improvements in their homes. These contractors are certified by the Building Performance Institute and are registered with Georgia Power as participating contractors.

How does the process work?
  1. First customers must chose a contractor from Georgia Power's list of Home Performance with ENERGY STAR Contractors.
  2. GA Power customers are pre-screened by discussing the program with a contractor.
  3. After the pre-screening process, the contractor will determine if a Home Performance assessment is the next step.

Once it is determined that a Home Performance assessment is appropriate:

  1. The customer and contractor agree to the initial Home Performance assessment and all contractor fees. Necessary appointments are set.
  2. The contractor meets the customer at their home to perform the Home Performance assessment, which covers: a visual walkthrough, a diagnostic analysis, and a list of necessary improvements.
  3. Once assessment is complete, the customer is responsible for paying the contractor the total cost of The Home Performance assessment. The cost of the comprehensive home assessment varies between contractors. Please ask your contractor about the comprehensive home assessment fee.
  4. Once the work is complete and the customer has paid the contractor, the contractor submits the rebate forms to Georgia Power on behalf of the customer for the corresponding rebates.

Rebates are offered in the following amounts for a variety of improvements:

For more information, please visit:

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

Lena Stevens
Resource Conservation Coordinator
City of Decatur, Georgia

Monday, March 22, 2010

Less property tax, more sales tax?

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Jim Galloway predicts that state leaders are trying to engineer a shift away from property taxes toward a system that relies more heavily on sales taxes. Here’s an excerpt from Galloway’s “Political Insider” article:

Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock) gave strong hints of how Georgia’s tax burden is likely to shift. “We have a broken property tax system that’s a relic of a 19th-century agrarian economy,” he said. Rogers thinks the state’s income tax is too closely tied to unemployment to be reliable. He and other Republicans have been eager to dump the corporate income tax for years.

Which leaves an obvious target. “We have a sales tax system that exempts more products and services than it actually taxes,” Rogers said.

And that brings us back to 78-year-old Zell Miller, whom the lawmakers want to join Perdue [see my post about the proposed tax study commission--RM] in the tax rewrite. Why?

Because Miller knows the state budget and is not tied up in a political campaign, said House Majority Leader Jerry Keen (R-St. Simons Island). But Keen was being disingenuous.

The Capitol’s GOP leadership wants Miller for two reasons. First, among Republicans, the former governor and senator is a living saint. Secondly, Miller is an essential part of Georgia’s tax history.

Fourteen years ago, Miller pushed through the sales tax exemption on food. A sales tax on food is the kind of reliable revenue stream that Wall Street respects. Taxes on real estate are vulnerable to bubbles. People without jobs don’t pay income taxes. But everyone has to eat.

And if Republicans want to reinstate the sales tax on food, it would be nice to have an endorsement from the man who lifted it.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Georgia tax tinkering

If the recently introduced House Bill 1405 is passed by the Georgia General Assembly, a new commission adopted by the state may lead to a “total overhaul” of Georgia’s tax system. Here’s the story from yesterday’s Augusta Chronicle:
ATLANTA -- A bill introduced this week with the support of Senate and House leaders sets the framework for a systematic study of Georgia's tax system this summer and fall by a blue-ribbon committee and creates an extraordinary mechanism for submitting any recommendations it may produce to next year's Legislature.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker David Ralston have a morning news conference planned at the Capitol to outline their thinking for the proposal.

House Bill 1405 makes no mention of the state's current budget problems but potentially provides a path lawmakers can travel if they wish to make fundamental, long-term changes and gives them a fall-guy to blame (a blue-ribbon commission) if the political fallout is too hot.

The bill, first of all, creates an entity to be known as the 2010 Special Council on Tax Reform and Fairness for Georgians. Its job is to conduct a thorough study of the current revenue structure and to report its findings to the speaker of the House and the lieutenant governor no later than Jan. 10, 2011.

Click here to read the full story. State Rep. Larry O’Neal says the proposal would not affect local taxes. That being said, I think the commission would have the authority under the current wording of the bill to review property taxes because those are part of the state’s total revenue structure.


House bill could affect tax revenues

House Bill 1093 passed the Georgia House of Representatives yesterday. The bill would allow cities and counties to provide the state Department of Revenue with information about its licensed businesses. DOR would use this information to uncover businesses that are not complying with sales tax laws. From the Rome News-Tribune:

Legislation passed by the House on Wednesday would let the Georgia Department of Revenue compare local business license lists against its list of companies sending in sales tax collections.

A pilot program in four counties and their cities last year turned up hundreds of businesses that were either operating without remitting sales tax to the DOR or paying the sales tax without being registered locally.

House Bill 1093 would let local jurisdictions opt to send their lists to the state for crosschecking.

State Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, said the principle is sound.

“If everyone pays their fair share of taxes and those taxes are remitted as they should be, it will certainly reduce the shortfall we’re experiencing in this economic crisis,” Dempsey said.

The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration...

The current language of the bill makes participation optional for cities and counties. The governing authority, in our case the Decatur City Commission, could pass a resolution enabling my office to send a business report to the state.

However, the legislation does not authorize DOR to provide local governments with any of its tax information. State Democrats have argued that if DOR provided cities and counties with sales tax data, local officials could pursue businesses that have sales tax certificates but who don’t have business licenses. Earlier versions of the bill required cities and counties to provide the data, but this appears to be strictly optional.

Lawmakers point to a pilot program in four counties that showed potential tax revenue of $100 to $300 million. However, I believe that assumption is based on 100 percent participation by local governments, and not all local governments will agree to provide this information to DOR.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Get Some Green for 'Going Green'- Georgia Appliance Rebate Program

Going green is getting cheaper thanks to tax incentives available through the federal and state government, as well as through Georgia Power. If you have been thinking about getting a new programmable thermostat or adding insulation... now is the time!

The City of Decatur's Environmental Sustainability Board has researched the incentives that are available to our residents for energy efficiency improvements to their homes, and I will be sharing this information with you over the next several days.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

Lena Stevens
Resource Conservation Coordinator
City of Decatur, Georgia

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 appropriated funds to each state for the establishment and administration of appliance rebate programs. The amount available to Georgia residents is $8,642,490. This is a first-come-first-served rebate program launching February 12, 2010. Georgia residents who replace an existing appliance with a new ENERGY STAR qualified appliance purchased after February 12, 2010, are eligible to apply for the rebate. Approved applicants will receive a Visa® Prepaid Card via mail. ENERGY STAR appliances eligible for the program include clothes washers, dishwashers, air conditioners, heat pumps, furnaces, water heaters, refrigerators and freezers. Purchases made prior to February 12, 2010 will not be eligible.

What products are eligible?
>Click HERE for a complete list of eligible items.
Clothes Washer- $50 or $99
Dishwasher- $50 or $99
Refrigerators- $50
Central Air Conditioners- $99
Gas Furnace- $199
Solar Hot Water Heater- $199

Who is eligible?
Georgia residents with a valid residential address who purchase a qualified ENERGY STAR appliance from a Georgia retailer will be eligible to receive the assigned rebate for that appliance. Rebates are limited to one rebate per appliance type per household. For example, a consumer who purchases two of the same appliance would qualify for only one rebate, but a consumer who purchases two different appliances would qualify for two separate rebates. Separate rebate applications must be completed for each appliance purchased. The maximum rebate limit per household is $1,200.

How can I make sure there are still funds available for rebates?
Consumers and/or retailers can confirm the availability of the remaining $8.6 million rebate funds by checking or by calling toll-free 1-866-296-1633. The Web site and phone number will provide a current estimate of the remaining rebate funds in the program and the approximate number of days until funding is depleted. The rebates will be awarded on a first-come-first-serve basis until the funding is depleted.

How do I apply?
Follow these steps in order:
1. Check the availability of funds at or by calling 1-866-296-1633. The rebate funds that remain are updated automatically as applications are received.

2. Buy a new ENERGY STAR qualified appliance to replace an existing appliance. Georgia residents are required to buy from Georgia retailers. Online and out-of-state purchases do not qualify. Purchases made before February 12, 2010, are not eligible for the rebate.

3. Arrange to remove and recycle the replaced appliance. Retailers can provide assistance with
recycling options.

4. Apply for a rebate online at or by calling 1-866-296-1633. You will need the receipt from your appliance purchase to complete the application. Print the application confirmation page and mail it with the sales receipt within 30 days of your online application. Phone applicants will receive the application confirmation page by mail and then mail it with the sales receipt within 30 days of the phoned application.

Receiving Your Rebate
Once the rebate claim is physically received and the receipt is verified, the customer's rebate will be approved and payment will be mailed. Rebates will be issued in the form of a Visa® Prepaid Card preloaded with the rebate amount and should be received by the customer within 2-3 weeks from time the required forms and receipts were mailed.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Mixed reaction to SB 346

The passage of Senate Bill 346 has elicited strong reactions over on the AJC’s “Gold Dome Live” blog. Some readers are thrilled about the bill; some see it as useless. Here’s a sampling:

Munroe Burbank:  "This is not good, and has absolutely nothing to do with lowering taxes. Sure, these days, assessments probably show a downward trend because of housing market crisis, but this won’t last forever. I was assessed every 3 – 4 years from 1996 – 2006, and each time my taxes went up because the value of my property went up. Once the economy is back on its feet and real estate values rebound, this yearly assessment will amount to an annual property tax increase."

RSJ:  “SB346 is a very good piece of legislation. It adds transparency to the assessment process and removes the need for filing a return to initiate an assessment appeal. Prior to this law, if the County elected not to send a taxpayer an assessment notice, the taxpayer had no appeal remedy for the current years’ assessment, unless they went to the County between Jan and March or April and filed a form called a real property tax return. Guess what – 99% of the citizens of this state had no idea that this was the process and thus when their tax bill came in the mail, there was no recourse. Now, at least the taxpayer will be formally notified each and every year what their assessment will be and it will be up to them to take action as to whether or not they feel an appeal is warranted. SB346 has some components that are not perfect but, overall, it is a solid example of our elected offficials acting as good legislators instead of just good politicians.”

None Supporter of SB346”:  “This legislation is a tool to force county assessors [sic] office to go broke so that the state can eliminate property taxes in each county, take over pushing for a state sales tax increase so that they control how much money goes to each county. Remeber [sic] folks, the propery [sic] tax bill you now pay is arrived at the amount of dollars it takes to run your county divided by the total assessment of the county. Now, take that away and you sales taxes will surely skyrocket! Then the political game of who and what county receives the sales tax collected, oh, wait, the state still owes the counties of Georgia millions of collected sales taxes in error already, cough up please Mr. Sonny.”

Read all the comments for yourself here.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Senate passes property assessment bill

The state Senate passed SB 346 yesterday by a 54-0 vote.

Sen. Ronald Ramsey (D), who represents a portion of DeKalb County, told the Atlanta Business Chronicle that “This bill is taxpayer relief. It will restore people’s faith in government.”

The bill would set the sale price of a home as the fair market value for tax purposes for one year following the sale. The legislation would also require counties to mail out assessment notices annually, which would give property owners the chance to challenge their assessments, and would extend the window to appeal to 45 days.

Here are more details from the Macon Telegraph:
ATLANTA — The state Senate approved a major overhaul to Georgia’s property tax system Thursday, continuing a multi-year effort to hold down the taxes local governments depend on and homeowners seem to hate.

Senate Bill 346, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers, passed unanimously and moves now to the House of Representatives, where similar reforms also are popular. Rogers’ bill includes dozens of changes, but the idea behind them is to keep property assessments from ballooning.

Those assessments — basically an estimation of a home or other property’s value — are used in conjunction with local millage rates to figure annual tax bills. But as the mortgage crisis has forced home values down, assessments haven’t kept pace, leaving many people feeling their property taxes are unfairly high. Rogers’ bill requires that assessment notices be sent to property owners every year. It extends the appeals process from 30 to 45 days and requires that all comparable sales, including bank sales and foreclosures, must be applied when officials set an assessed value.

It also locks in a home’s assessed value for one year after it sells.

Other property tax legislation is moving forward in the House, aimed at capping the annual increase in a home’s tax value, regardless of what the housing market does. House Resolution 1 and House Bill 517, both of which deal with such caps, passed the House Ways and Means Committee on Thursday.

Efforts to cap assessment growth failed last year, but House Republicans are pushing the matter again. Rogers’ reforms seem to have wider appeal. For example, Democrats who blocked House Resolution 1 last year have said they won’t fight Rogers’ bill.

The bill is expected to receive bipartisan support in the state House.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

3rd Annual Citizen Survey

The City of Decatur wants to know what citizens really think about their community life and municipal government. Such input helps the City Commission make better-informed decisions and enables city staff to provide quality services that meet real community needs.

To gather such information and insights directly from citizens, the City (with the help of the National Research Center) randomly selected a number of Decatur households to participate in our 3rd citizen survey. If you were selected to participate you would have received a notification card in the mail beginning, Friday, 26 February 2010. Surveys were placed in the mail on Friday, 5 March 2010 so be on the lookout.

If you weren't selected but would like to get in on a piece of the action, visit the City's online forum Open City Hall. Two of the questions (one concerning a bond issue and the second concering tax rates & service levels) included in the survey are making an appearance in order to give all residents a chance to respond.

For more information on the citizen survey and to see results from the previous two surveys, check out the Citizen Survey page on our website.

Senate scraps year-round appeal proposal

Senate Bill 346, which would make significant changes to property assessments and the appeals process in Georgia, was favorably reported out by committee yesterday.

But the proposed bill has been amended to remove a key provision from the bill.  Rather than allowing for year-round appeals, the bill would simply extend the current 30-day appeal window to a 45-day window.

The proposed requirements for counties to send assessment notices to property owners annually (which would give owners more frequent opportunity to appeal) and setting the sale price of a home as the maximum fair market value for one year following the sale remain in the bill.

While the substitute language makes the overall bill less controversial, The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports today that there are still lingering concerns by county officials that the state proposal puts new administrative requirements on local governments without funding them.

GPB had reported earlier this month that the property assessment bill would be withdrawn pending the state’s February revenues. That appears to have been an inaccurate prediction since the numbers announced today are abysmal and most of the original measures in SB 346 are still on the table.

Monday, March 8, 2010

What are business personal property taxes?

In addition to real estate property tax, Decatur bills for taxes owed on personal property such as marine vessels, aircraft, business inventories, office or work equipment, furniture, or fixtures. In 2009, personal property tax bills were calculated by multiplying the assessed property value by the city’s combined millage rate of 32.935. Bills were mailed in October and were due by Dec. 21, 2009.

The property value is determined from a Taxpayer’s Report of Personal Property filed with the DeKalb County Board of Tax Assessors by the owner or the owner’s agent. If no report was filed, the value was based on an on-site audit or review of the previous year’s report or other related information.

State law requires personal property taxes to be based on the residency of the taxpayer and location of the personal property as of January 1 of each year. Personal property owned on that date must be reported and listed for assessment by March 1. Taxes must be paid regardless of any change in the residency of the taxpayer or disposition of the property later in the year.

If the DeKalb County Board of Tax Assessors tells us that you were a resident of the City of Decatur on January 1, or maintained a business located in the City of Decatur on that day, and you are liable to pay the full amount of personal property taxes as billed for the complete year.

Our office recently mailed out notices to individuals and businesses who owe personal property tax for 2009 and prior years. Interest will continue to accrue on unpaid balances by 1 percent monthly. If you received a late notice and have questions about your bill, please call us.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Upcoming events

I meant to post this earlier this week so I could have helped advertise a little for the City of Decatur Development Department’s homeowner night on Tuesday.  Forgive me!

Fortunately, a couple other events are coming up that would be of interest to Decatur homeowners and property taxpayers:
  1. According to DecaturMetro, Decatur realtors Terry Michel and Sean Dammann will host a forum tonight on the state of Decatur’s real estate market. Read more details here.
  2. Of special interest to owners of older homes, the Decatur Old House Fair will take place this Saturday. Regina Brewer, City of Decatur Preservation Planner, says “This day-long celebration will feature new ideas, practical advice, innovative materials, and quality services for owners of older homes. Homeowners can attend how-to seminars and workshops on restoring old windows, creating a maintenance plan, tax credits for rehabilitation, historic landscapes, researching an old house, and much more.” Visit for more information.
  3. A webinar tailored for businesses appealing their valuation will be conducted by Advantax on March 23. I can’t endorse Advantax or the content of the class, and it seems a little pricey for a webinar, but it may be beneficial to some commercial property owners.

Please let me know if I’ve left something relevant out!