Saturday, August 30, 2014

Tax office closed for Labor Day

Decatur City Hall, including the tax office, will be closed on Monday in observance of Labor Day. If you need immediate information while we’re closed, please go to From there you can access all of our city property tax, stormwater, and sanitation accounts going back to 2009. Tax payments can also be made on that website with a convenience fee charged by our third-party payment processor.

At that website, you can also access occupation tax records (business licenses) and pay to renew your business license without any extra processing fees.

To apply for a basic homestead exemption online, go to General tax information including millage rates and how bills are calculated are available at

Please note that if you owe delinquent taxes, an additional 1 percent monthly interest charge will accrue on unpaid balances on September 2.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Book festival presentations for numbers people

When you go to the Decatur book festival this weekend, think about stopping by one of the sessions involving a topic that it’s hard to get enough of—money!

A couple events and stages caught my attention looking through this weekend’s schedule:

The business & economics track at the Marriott will include the authors of Factory Man, a book about an American family business that has to compete with cheaper Chinese manufacturers, the Wealth Choice profiling black millionaires, and What Stays in Vegas about the rise of big data and what it means for your privacy.

At the science track, Amir Alexander will discuss his nonfiction book Infinitesimal about a mathematical debate that affected the course of European history.

At the children’s stage, Jude Watson joins a “heists and heroics” panel. This year she published Loot, a robbery caper for young readers. See you there!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The problem with "memo bills"

I'm not sure if there's a formal definition of a "memo bill," but in my office we think of it as any payer-generated document showing an account number and an amount owed that is mailed in along with a payment. Typically, these are statements created in-house by businesses, law firms, or banks.

Judging from a May 2014 sample of payments we received, almost 15 percent of non-escrow tax payments are made by taxpayers who provide a memo bill rather than the remittance coupon we provided during billing.

Tax payments to Decatur are processed in a high-volume processing center at our bank. The processors are under instructions from my office to key in information provided on the check and the remittance coupons. The processors thrive with consistency--the more standardized the checks and coupons are, the more accurately they key in information, and the more seemlessly my office is able to import bank data to minimize posting delays or errors.

The memo bills we receive are formatted in a wide variety of irregular formats. Bank processors are not always able to readily identify property IDs on memo bills that might reference loan numbers and other extraneous data. Also, memo bills frequently lack critical but basic information such as which tax year the payment is intended for. Without a property ID and tax year, the payment cannot be applied to the correct account in an automated fashion--it kicks out as an exception that one of Decatur's revenue officers must research and post manually. This means that a significant amount of staff time (and wages) go toward reviewing memo bills to reconcile them to the appropriate account and tax installment.

Therefore, our policy and preference is to receive tax payments with the original remittance coupon we provide, or with a copy of the bill from our website ( Our residents do a fantastic job at including the coupons, but we need some help from certain companies that continue to generate memo bills. In the weeks and months to come, we may begin following up with letters to these memo bill creators stating that we are unable to continue accepting memo bills.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Local government millage rates in Georgia fluctuate in 2014

Like most years, some city and county property tax rates in Georgia are going up, some are holding steady, and some are decreasing.  There doesn’t seem to be a pattern.  Here’s a rundown of some of this year’s property tax changes in north Georgia and other major jurisdictions in the state:

Fulton County (17 percent)
Cobb County (1.5 percent)
Clayton County (2 percent)
Catoosa County (11 percent)
Walker County (15 percent)

Floyd County

DeKalb County
Gwinnett County (no millage change but exceeds rollback rate)
Macon-Bibb County and the Bibb school board

Decatur’s school millage rate is decreasing in 2014 while the City’s non-school millage rates are staying constant.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Officials square off over property tax increase

In 2013, the governor signed House Bill 604 into law, which prohibited the Fulton County board of commissioners from approving a property tax increase until 2015 at the earliest. The law says, “Any proceedings by the governing authority of Fulton County to make or fix a levy of ad valorem taxes for Fulton County at a millage rate which would exceed the roll-back rate shall be suspended until January 1, 2015.”

The Fulton County commission then voted to repeal the state law on the basis of their home rule authority under the state constitution, which says, “a county may, as an incident of its home rule power, amend or repeal the local acts applicable to its governing authority” (Sec. II, Par. 1) under certain conditions.

Last week, the county commission approved a 17 percent millage rate increase.

Former co-sponsors of House Bill 604 immediately sued Fulton County and are seeking an injunction to prevent the county tax commissioner from collecting taxes with the higher rate.  Lawyers for the lawmakers say that the home rule power cited by Fulton County is trumped by a 1951 amendment to the state constitution that specifically authorized the General Assembly to control Fulton County’s ad valorem taxation powers.

The tax increase has revived interest among some north Fulton County taxpayers to secede to create their own “Milton County.”

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Lake Lanier homeowners seek property tax cap

Hall County property owners are asking state legislators to place a cap on the amount that property assessments can increase per year. If they drum up enough support, their proposal could change how assessments are handled statewide.  Access North Georgia reports:

Hall Co. group pushes for law to cap property taxes

GAINESVILLE - Owners of lake property in Hall County say they will not give up when it comes to placing a limit on how much they are charged each year for property taxes.

A group called "Georgia Tax Cap" has been gathering signatures on a online petition to present to lawmakers with the goal of having a new state law that would limit the amount property taxes could increase in a given year.

Group spokeswoman Berly West Baker said the effort was prompted by Hall County's reassessment of lake properties this year.

On average, property owners in the county saw an increase of about 39% in assessed value, but Baker said the bulk of those who faced increases were lake property owners. Plus, she contends most of the increases were much higher than the average - some as much as 300% higher…

But apparently, responses from North Georgia legislators are mixed. Caps have been controversial ever since California’s Proposition 13 which limited assessment increases to 2 percent annually. Lake property owners might have more luck contacting members of a state study committee created during the 2014 legislative session to evaluate property taxes and education funding, or by proposing a separate property tax cap study committee in 2015.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

No properties sold at Decatur’s tax sale

Decatur conducted a tax sale yesterday for delinquent property taxes owed for 2013 and prior tax years. By the time of sale at 10:00 a.m., the only properties left were seven land lots of various size, quality, and accessibility. No buildings or homes—either occupied or vacant—were put up for auction. The number of delinquent properties by the time of our sale was consistent with the number auctioned over the past couple years.

Four potential bidders attended the sale at City Hall, but made no bids, meaning that the taxes for these lots are still owed and there will be no change of ownership at this time. Generally, buyers don’t want tiny land lots that cannot be easily built on (although neighboring property owners are sometimes interested). The minimum required bid is the amount required to pay off the back taxes and collection fees owed. If there had been any bids, the buyer would have had to pay the taxes, then we would have filed a tax deed on their behalf, and the original owner would have had a year to redeem the property from the tax sale buyer.

Contrary to popular belief, the seven properties do not automatically transfer to ownership by the City now. The properties remain on the tax rolls under the existing owners’ names, and the parcels can be included again in future county or city tax sales.

Though unpleasant, the deadline of a scheduled tax sale is the only thing that will ensure payment by certain property owners, so the tax sale is a crucial component in maintaining Decatur’s 99.9 percent real property tax collection rate.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Decatur adopts new millage rate for school system

Decatur’s school board voted to lower the school’s millage rate from 20.9 in 2013 to 20.5 in 2014 last month—a reduction of almost 2 percent. Tonight, the City Commission has formally approved the new rate. (The Commission is required by the City's charter to adopt the school board’s proposal).

Together with Decatur’s own 13 mill levy, the approval makes for a combined millage rate of 33.5 for 2014. The combined rate had been steady at 33.9 mills since 2011.

A mill represents one tax dollar per $1,000 of assessed property value, so a four-tenths reduction in the millage rate represents a 40¢ tax reduction per $1,000 of assessed value. In practical terms, this means homes in Decatur would see a reduction of their total property taxes for 2014 of $35 to $80 compared to 2013 if the property value didn't change since last year. Individual tax changes will vary based on assessed value. This chart shows a few examples (assuming the property value is the same in 2014 as it was in 2013):

Example 1 Example 2 Example 3
100% property appraisal $175,000 $320,000 $400,000
50% property assessment $87,500 $160,000 $200,000
2014 city property tax bill $2,931 $5,360 $6,700
2013 city property tax bill $2,966 $5,424 $6,780
Year-over-year reduction of… $35 $64 $80

Homeowners who are over the age of 80 and who make less than $40,000 will not see a change in their bills since they are not currently paying school taxes. Certain individuals over the age of 62 who have low incomes and low assessed values may also be paying little or no school taxes, and will likewise see little or no change in their bills.

In addition to real property, the millage rates also apply to "personal property," which are business inventory taxes, so some local businesses that have no change in their property value will see a slight savings.

The new millage rates will be factored into Decatur’s second installment property tax bills, which will be mailed Oct. 20 and due Dec. 22. Payments made during the first installment this spring are treated as credits against the total year’s taxes.