Wednesday, January 21, 2015

10 days until business license renewal deadline

The deadline for businesses in Decatur to renew their business license for 2015 is January 31. Renewal invoices were mailed in November. You can renew in person at 509 North McDonough Street; by mail to P.O. Box 220, Decatur, GA 30031; or online through after clicking on Occupation Tax on the left side of the screen.

In addition to payment of the occupational tax, we may need some additional paperwork in order to renew a license. If the business owner is a U.S. citizen and has already filed a SAVE affidavit with Decatur, you are not required to re-file a SAVE affidavit during renewal. If the business has 10 or less employees and has already filed an E-Verify affidavit with Decatur, you are not required to re-file an E-Verify affidavit. Non-citizens need to file SAVE affidavits annually and businesses with over 10 employees need to file E-Verify numbers annually in order to renew their license.

If you received a renewal invoice but your business has moved or closed, please let us know so we can settle and close your account with our office.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Bills to watch in 2015

The Georgia General Assembly convenes today. Here’s a look at some of the proposals at the Gold Dome that could affect taxes locally or statewide if enacted:
  • Expansion of homestead exemptions in Decatur. The Decatur City Commission approved a proposal late last year to expand two existing homestead exemptions and add a new one. The next step would be for the General Assembly to pass it before a referendum that would take place later this year. 
  • DeKalb property tax freeze. Both Rep. Mike Jacobs (R-Brookhaven) and state Sen. Fran Millar (R-North DeKalb) said during their 2014 reelection campaigns that they intend to renew the real property tax freeze in DeKalb. The freeze reduces county tax bills for all DeKalb's homeowners by offsetting increases in their assessed value (even for homeowners in Decatur), but does not affect your city taxes. 
  • Decatur's proposed annexation. The Decatur City Commission has approved an annexation proposal in December and is looking for a legislative sponsor.  This would affect the property taxes of currently unincorporated residents if approved by the legislature and then by voters in a referendum later this year.
  • Property assessment reform.  During his reelection campaign, Sen. Millar promised "to enact true property tax assessment reform" during the 2015 session that would affect assessments statewide.  We may see a reintroduction of a bill along the lines of SB 293 that Millar proposed last year. 
  • Tax lien changes.  Newly elected state Rep. Beth Beskin (R-Buckhead) has proposed requiring certified notice before selling a property tax lien. Neither Decatur nor DeKalb sells liens, but the proposal would affect Fulton County which routinely transfers liens.
  • PILOT assessment reform.  A special study committee met during the legislative break to review payments-in-lieu-of-tax agreements and their affect on school funding. While they focused on administrative changes rather than new legislation, there could be some proposals stemming from the committee's hearings to provide for greater involvement and notification by tax assessors of PILOT values to school boards for budgeting purposes.
  • Tax credit changes.  There has been some discussion during the legislative break about changes to state tax credits (possibly including a reduction in the number of credits available but a continuation or even an expansion of the state entertainment/film tax credit).  There have also been two pre-filed bills that would affect state income taxes. HB 20 would extend the state income tax credit for low-income housing to any owner who owned it even for part of the tax year, and HB 35 would increase the amount of qualified education tax credits available.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Tax and payment news to watch in 2015

From a property tax standpoint in and around Decatur in 2015, I expect a lot of debate about the proposed annexation, the north DeKalb cityhood movements, and the impact that those changes will have on property tax bills of county residents who are currently unincorporated. If Decatur’s proposed annexation advances through the upcoming state legislative session, we would see a November 2015 referendum (plus a possible vote on expanding homestead exemptions in Decatur). Also, 2015 should be the last year that anybody sees a property tax charge from the State of Georgia on their tax bills—that small portion of your bill has been gradually phased out over the past four years, and this is the fifth and final year.

From a payment technology standpoint, I expect many more Decatur residents will take advantage of our relatively new online feature to pay taxes with an e-check with no convenience fee. Previously our only online option was making credit card payments with a convenience charge. Nationally, innovations and updated credit card security standards will change how payments are made and accepted in the U.S. including chip-and-PIN (EMV) and ApplePay technologies. Consumers will no longer swipe the magnetic strip of their credit cards at retail terminals, but rather insert their cards and key in a PIN number at locations where merchants have upgraded their hardware. IPhone 6 users will be able to make contactless payments at an increasing number of retailers. Consumers will see the most immediate impact of these changes at private sector locations, but these trends will eventually affect how citizens pay taxes and fees to local and state government agencies as well.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

What January 1 means for local taxes

With many local taxes—especially property taxes—everything significant hinges on January 1.  Here are a few things about this key date that homeowners and business owners should consider in order to understand tax liability for the new year.

Property taxpayers
Property assessments for 2015 conducted by DeKalb County will be based on the status of the property as of January 1. For example, new developments and improvements made prior to January 1 will be factored into 2015 assessments by DeKalb, but improvements made after January 1 would not. Properties annexed into Decatur in 2014 will be taxed by Decatur in 2015, but properties annexed in 2015 wouldn’t be taxed in Decatur until 2016.

If the status of your property has changed since last year, you should file a return with the DeKalb County assessors office between now and April 1. If you own or owned a business that closed in 2014 or moved out of Decatur or DeKalb, you should also notify the DeKalb County assessors office to ensure that you do not receive an assessment notice and tax bills from DeKalb and Decatur in 2015. If your business is open for the beginning of 2015 you will receive an assessment and tax bill for 2015 even if your business closes or moves later this year.

Property owners should also note what tax officials mean by “the first-of-the-year owner,” or the “January 1 owner.” DeKalb County records and their website show both the owner as of January 1 and the current owner if ownership changes later in the year. Many times, we are questioned about why a bill or a delinquent notice was sent to the January 1 owner rather than the current owner. Generally speaking, Decatur attempts to notify the current owner of bills that are owed. But there can be delays in reflecting current ownership information, and technically, the January 1 owner may be considered to be responsible for the taxes that year depending on the terms at closing, or at least be responsible for notifying the current owner of any bills that the January 1 owner received for the property.

Lastly, when you file your 2014 federal income taxes, if you will be itemizing deductions including local property taxes paid, you can claim payments actually made during calendar year 2014.  If you're paying your 2014 property taxes late (for example, if you pay your 2nd installment 2014 Decatur tax bill on Jan. 8, 2015), you can't deduct that on your 2014 income taxes.  But please consult a tax professional for further guidance on that.

Homestead exemption applicants
Qualifying for age-based homestead exemptions for your property taxes depends on the age of the homeowner as of January 1. If you turned 62, 65, 70, or 80 prior to today, you may have become eligible for one or more homestead exemptions offered by Decatur. Homestead exemptions can be applied for with the city between now and April 1, but preferably no later than March 16, 2015 to ensure that any new exemptions on your account appear on your 1st installment tax bill which will be mailed out by April 1. You should also check with DeKalb to determine whether you have become eligible for any additional exemptions with their office.

Occupation taxpayers
If your business has more than 10 employees as of today, you will need to file an E-Verify form with our office prior to the next renewal of your business license, because state law references the number of employees as of January 1, not as of the time you are renewing your license.

Also, Decatur’s occupation tax ordinance says that occupation taxes are payable by January 2 of each year but that the taxes are not considered delinquent until January 31, which is why the Revenue Division puts a January 31 deadline on business license renewal invoices.