Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Lessons for cities from the Target breach

The theft of credit and debit card data from Target stores during the Christmas shopping season is a reminder of the necessity for merchants to incorporate rigorous safeguards into their payment acceptance environment.

The City of Decatur and any other government entities that accept credit card payments qualify as “merchants” under payment card industry (PCI) standards. 

Decatur handles over 10,000 credit card transactions representing over $1 million annually across different departments and facilities.  Although this is a tiny volume of transactions compared to big chain stores like Target, and although we do not use point-of-sale devices such as those suspected in the Target breach (keypads with magnetic stripe readers and digital signature pads), the City is not immunized from the risk of breaches.

We have been working over the past several months on enhancing protections of credit card data for our taxpayers and other paying customers, and have begun receiving vulnerability scans on a monthly basis.
Funds were approved in Decatur’s FY13-14 budget to have a formal PCI gap analysis conducted by a an approved scanning vendor, and we are close to entering an agreement for the service.  This analysis would be performed under new, more comprehensive payment card standards (PCI-DSS 3.0) standards that go into effect tomorrow.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Attorney deadline in 10 days

If you are practicing law in Decatur, your annual occupation tax of $400 and administrative fee of $25 are due no later than Dec. 31.  This tax is for revenue purposes only.

Several lawyers have already taken advantage of our new web service which allows for payments to be made online by credit card with no additional fees. 

If you intend to pay online, go to this site.  For the year, change the selected year to 2013 (lawyers pay for the current year, while all other professionals and businesses pay for the upcoming year).  For the “business name,” enter your actual name as it appears on your bill (first name first, last name second).  Once you’ve found your record, click “renew” to pay.  Please do not select 2014 and do not search by the name of your law firm.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Reminder: property taxes due Friday

Decatur’s second installment tax payment deadline for 2013 is Friday, December 20.
If you are not sure whether your bill has been paid or have misplaced your bill, you can check your account online at www.decaturgatax.com or call us at 404-370-4100.
The bills were originally mailed out in October.  Penalties and interest will begin accruing on Jan. 8.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Georgia community taxed out of existence?

In coastal Georgia, the Geechee residents of Sapelo Island were notified last year and again this year of property assessments that increased by 500 or 600 percent. Residents who were used to paying a few hundred dollars in property taxes now have to pay thousands.

The tax bills may cause the mostly low-income residents of Hog Hammock in Sapelo to sell their homes and eventually dissolve the African-American community that's lived on the island since the 1700s.

The McIntosh County tax assessor's hands are tied.  State law requires assessments to be based on what a willing buyer and seller would agree to in an arm's length sale.  Recent property sales in Sapelo to mainland buyers have led to the skyrocketing assessments. Sales data is an essential component of modern assessment techniques.

Therefore, in my opinion, if Hog Hammock is to be preserved, the most logical route may be through special legislation, such as preferential tax treatment of Hog Hammock as a historic district, or targeted homestead exemptions or freezes that would reduce the tax bills.

However, proposals for a Sapelo Island study committee haven't gone anywhere during previous sessions of the Georgia General Assembly.

Residents are mounting a legal challenge to their assessments which, based on my understanding of Georgia's tax code, will be an uphill climb. 

A more effective approach than hiring a lawyer may be to hire a lobbyist to help them build a broader coalition of support at the state capitol in 2014.