Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Reminder to file business property return

If a business in Georgia has tangible property worth more than $7,500, they are required to pay an annual business personal property tax bill.  Currently this affects about 450 business owners in Decatur, who pay personal property taxes to both the City of Decatur and DeKalb County.

We run into many business owners who either do not know or disagree with the valuation of their personal property.  If you fall into this category, I recommend that you file a return of your business personal property with the DeKalb County tax assessor's office prior to their April 1 deadline to help ensure an accurate value for tax year 2013.

Being familiar with your own taxable property and its value is the best way to prevent surprises later on in the year when you receive your annual bill.  If you or your business purchased property or had any significant changes to your fixed assets or business inventory, please let the county know.

Here are the guidelines from DeKalb County's website:
Georgia statutes and regulations require that all aircraft, boats, and tangible business personal property (furniture, fixtures, equipment, inventory, leaseholds. etc.) be reported annually. Business personal property used or located in DeKalb County should be reported on a "PT50P Business Personal Property Tax Return".
Statutes require that a value be determined even if the owner fails to file a BAR or return of value. Failure to file timely subjects the owner to possible penalties, loss of depreciation, and exemptions, if applicable.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Tax office offers special Saturday hours tomorrow

The property tax office at City Hall, 509 North McDonough Street, will be open Saturday, February 23, from 9:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m.  These hours offer more opportunities for one-on-one customer service to the community--especially for those who are not able to stop by during the regular workweek.

If you have a property tax, homestead exemption, business license, or any other local tax matter to take care of, please stop by and see us!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

New video made about property taxes in Georgia

The Association of County Commissioners of Georgia has produced a video entitled "Facts About Your Property Tax - An Investment in Your Community."

The video describes how local government services in Georgia are funded, the services that are typically provided, how budgets and millage rates are adopted, and how properties are assessed and billed.  The video also draws some comparisons to illustrate how much government services cost per taxpayer; for example, it says that your share for the cost of library services annually works out to about the cost of one hardback book.

The video says that the average county property tax bill statewide is about $1,500.  Taxes in cities tend to be higher than taxes in counties because cities traditionally provide more services than counties.

The video also makes the point that the annual assessment notice you receive in May details your options for appeal if you disagree with your assessed value.  It's suggested that the time to consider an appeal is when you receive the assessment notice, not later in the year when you receive your bill.

It's informative and worth watching.  My favorite scene is when the firefighter carries a dog from a house:

The ACCG has also launched a website called "Facts About Property Tax" with more information for Georgia property taxpayers.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Income tax filing assistance offered at Decatur Library

Need help preparing your income tax return?  The AARP is offering assistance at the Decatur Library on 215 Sycamore Street on Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. between now and April 15.  This news comes from Feb. 14-20 edition of The Champion:

AARP Foundation Tax-Aide provides free tax assistance and preparation

Free tax assistance and preparation for low- and moderate-income taxpayers of all ages, is available from AARP Foundation Tax-Aide through April 15.  Those seeking assistance do not need to be members of AARP or retirees to use this service.

AARP Foundation Tax-Aide volunteers, trained in cooperation with the Internal Revenue Service, offer help with personal income tax returns at various locations around Georgia.

"Tax law can often be confusing.  AARP Foundation Tax-Aide volunteers can make the process of filling out tax returns easier," said Helen Lowenthal, district coordinator for much of DeKalb County...
More information about the AARP's program can be found here.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Budget season is here

Welcome to the time of year officially known as ‘Budget Season’ to those of us in City departments. Similar to other “seasons”, such as the holiday season, hunting season, harvest season, tax season, etc., there is much to do in a short amount of time.

Each year the City invites residents to participate in the budget process through community budget gatherings. The goal of the gatherings is to provide relevant budget and financial information in an informal environment so that participants can better understand the City's budget process, including how revenue and expenditure recommendations are made. Concerns and priorities received from past participants have helped guide budget decision-making and prompted thoughtful budget discussions among City departments. If being a part of such a group interests you, I hope that you will consider joining members of the staff at one or more of three community budget gatherings. The meetings are currently scheduled for March 12th at 7:00 p.m. at City Hall; April 16th at a time and place to be determined; and May 14th at 7:00 p.m. at City Hall.

If you can’t make it to one of the community budget gatherings, fear not, there will be other opportunities to participate. More on that in a later post. For now, check out the Budget page on the City’s website for a schedule of important dates and links to past budgets.

City sends nearly 400 ‘Intents to FiFa’

Decatur is sending notices to about 270 property owners who owe a total of $570,000 real property taxes to the city and the school system for 2012 and any other outstanding balances.  These letters provide notice that we intend to file a lien (also known as fieri facias, a “FiFa”, meaning a writ of execution) unless the taxes are paid within 30 days.

Decatur is also sending notices to over a hundred business personal property owners—mostly businesses with taxable inventory—who owe about $100,000 in taxes to the city and schools.

For comparison, Decatur sent 350 Intents to FiFa for unpaid real property taxes around this time last year.

This is, at a minimum, the third notice that we have sent attempting to collect payment.  The original bills were mailed on October 20, 2012.  Past due notices were sent on Jan. 14, 2013.  Bills are also available our website 24/7.  If the debt is owed on more than one installment, multiple notices have been sent on a regular basis since the account first became delinquent.

If the taxes owed are not paid before the 30-day deadline, a lien will be filed against the property.  A tax lien can lower a property owner’s credit score.

Property owners interested in making payment arrangements with us must apply to do so before the 30-day deadline elapses.  Such requests will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis for residents with valid reasons, a substantial down payment, and a history of timely payments.  Even if approved for extended payment arrangements, a lien will still be set against the property to protect the city’s interests.

Please be aware that if a payment was made within the last few business days, there may have been a delay in applying your payment to your account while our bank processed the payment.  If you receive a notice but have just recently paid, please disregard the notice or call us at 404-370-4100 to confirm that your account is paid current.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

State rep seeks to separate taxes from fees

Rep. Brett Harrell (R-Snellville) has introduced a bill in the state House that would require Georgia cities and counties to remove any nontax fees from property tax bills. Such fees would have to be billed separately, or on two separate sheets within the same envelope.

In addition to concerns that have been raised about local implementation costs and the adverse impact this would have on collecting fees, this would also mean that most Decatur residents would probably receive five local government bills annually:  three city bills (two installments of city property tax bills and a city fee bill) and two county bills (a county tax bill and a county fee bill).

This would almost certainly require us to create separate resident accounts to track your fees separately from your taxes, which means residents would have two city account IDs (your property or parcel ID plus a fee ID).  I'm not sure if DeKalb's system would work the same way, but if they do, that would mean that most residents would have four local government tax and fee accounts to keep up with.

This proposal is somewhat different from Rep. Harrell’s House Bill 291 last year, which would have required partial payments to be applied to taxes prior to being applied to nontax fees. That bill died in the House in 2011.

The Patch has this report:
Should Non-Tax Fees Be Removed From Property Tax Bills?

House Bill 159 would limit what type of fees municipalities could add to residents' property tax bills.
A bill introduced in the Georgia General Assembly last week by state Rep. Brett Harrell would prohibit municipalities from adding non-tax fees to property tax bills. Harrell initially introduced the bill in 2011 with nearly 60 co-signers.
“Too often citizens across Georgia experience increased property tax bills, higher monthly mortgage payments, and, in some cases, liens against their property, all resulting from the addition of non-tax fees added to their property tax bills,” Harrell said. “The type and number of fees continues to increase each year.  This legislation will help ease the burden on Georgia households and increase government transparency.”
Harrell said House Bill 159 addresses a growing concern among property owners statewide as home prices remain low. He said Georgians have to carefully budget their money and it doesn't help to have to face increasing property tax bills.
The municipalities, however, argue that fees are bills that have to be paid -- such as for the sanitation services in Gwinnett that caused so much controversy when first introduced. Robert Mesteller, a Snellville resident, took on the county on this issue last year, claiming it was illegal and unconstitutional to collect fees for sanitation services on property tax bills. His lawsuit was not successful, but is currently under appeal and awaiting a ruling from the Georgia Supreme Court. Gwinnett County officials cautioned that a change in the system could actually end up costing some taxpayers more in the long run.
When Mesteller filed his appeal, Gwinnett County communications director Joe Sorenson said a new billing system would have to be created if sanitation services could no longer be collected on property tax bills -- and that it would be costly.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Decatur architects lead the way

Sample business license for Decatur (county seat of DeKalb County)
Business license for a local architect

Now that the deadline for local businesses to renew their licenses for 2013 has passed, I would like to salute local architects doing business in the City of Decatur, who have the highest rate of occupation tax compliance of any profession or business type in the city so far for this year.  Our collection rate from architects is about 30 percent higher than other categories of businesses at this point—a testament to their attention to detail!

Businesses that are past due will receive courtesy notices shortly from the Revenue Division.