Monday, September 28, 2015

DeKalb County reminds taxpayers of deadline

The following item appeared in the Sept. 23 edition of the DeKalb Neighbor:
Property tax payments Claudia G. Lawson, DeKalb Tax Commissioner, is reminding DeKalb County taxpayers that the due date for the first installment of 2015 real estate and personal property taxes is Sept. 30.
First installment taxes, which are not received or postmarked by the Sept. 30 deadline will incur a 5 percent late payment penalty which applies by law. It is important to note that if your payment is mailed, the postmark or cancellation stamp from the U.S. Postal Service is the only accepted evidence of timely mailing. 
There is also a drop box on the front and side of the central office at 4380 Memorial Drive in Decatur [sic], which may be used for last minute drop-offs.
Another convenient option is to pay property taxes by electronic check or credit card.
Property owners with questions should contact the Tax Commissioner’s Office at 404-298-4000 or email for assistance.

DeKalb County property taxes are billed and paid separately from City of Decatur property taxes.  DeKalb sends one bill annually with two remittance stubs, the first being due this Wednesday.  Decatur sends two distinct bills annually; the first installment was due on June 1.

Monday, September 21, 2015

City manager proposes fee waiver for senior homeowners

The City Commission will consider a proposal tonight from city manager Peggy Merriss to offer a credit on bills for eligible seniors. Under the proposal, homeowners in Decatur over the age of 70 who have the S-3 homestead exemption may be eligible for a waiver of municipal fees for garbage pick-up and storm water utility services for 2015.

The typical owner of a single-family dwelling in Decatur was charged $240 for sanitation services and $75 for storm water drainage during our 1st installment billing of 2015. Some property owners, such as condo and town home owners, may have been charged less for fees based on the characteristics of their property. The proposal would waive the fees that the property owner was charged, resulting in (assuming that the charges have been paid) a credit on the taxpayer’s 2nd installment bill.

The measure is designed to help seniors cope with the cost of rising property assessments. More information about the context and reasons for this proposal are spelled out in Ms. Merriss’s memo to the City Commission here.  The meeting will take place at 7:30 tonight at City Hall.

Update:  The fee waiver was approved unanimously be the City Commission on Monday night.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

State senator pitches a cap on property assessments

In 2014, Sen. Fran Millar sponsored Senate Bill 293 to change procedures for appealing property values. That bill did not pass the state house. In 2015, Millar revisited the issue House Bill 202, which incorporated some proposals from the bill the prior year. HB 202 passed both chambers of the General Assembly and signed by the governor. 

For 2016, Millar says he’ll make another proposal for more reforms to assessments and appeals. He intends to prohibit boards of equalization from increasing property assessments based on information found by assessors while the property is under appeal.

Millar also says that, “we need to look at a cap on how much an assessment can increase in a given year.” Similar comments have been made by former state representative Ed Lindsey and Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Kyle Wingfield. They floated caps on assessment increases anywhere from 2 to 3 percent a year, while Millar has not specified a percentage.

Here’s what Millar wrote in an op-ed for the AJC a few weeks ago:
First, a Board of Tax Assessors cannot change a person’s tax assessment once it is published. One county is telling its Board of Equalization — the panel you face at an appeal hearing — that it has the power to raise a taxpayer’s assessment if evidence is presented that justifies such an increase. This needs to be prohibited by statute.
Second, one county is threatening to send letters to taxpayers that if they pursue an appeal, the Board of Equalization may increase the assessment without limitation. The taxpayer would be given a notice to sign and return if they wish to withdraw their appeal. This attempt to kill appeals also needs to be prohibited by statute. 
Third, we need to look at a cap on how much an assessment can increase in a given year. I am not sure what the correct percentage should be, but discussion needs to take place on this topic. Your thoughts are welcome.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Columbus mayor pushes to end property value freeze

The mayor of Georgia's second biggest city is urging residents to support an elimination of a property value freeze instituted in Columbus 35 years ago.  Taxpayers with the freeze keep the same property value for tax purposes unless they make improvements or sell the property.  Teresa Tomlinson argues that the system is unfair and discourages homeowners from making improvements and new families from moving in.  WRBL reports:
Columbus Mayor hopes City Council backs ‘thaw’ of property tax freeze 
COLUMBUS, Ga. – Mayor Teresa Tomlinson has wrapped up her “Thaw the Freeze” public forums. Tomlinson is hoping to add a referendum to the November 2016 General Election ballot.
Her proposal is to “thaw” the city’s property tax freeze that has been on the books since 1982. In basic terms, the freeze means when you buy a house in Columbus, your home value is frozen from that day on. 
Mayor Tomlinson said it’s had a depressing effect on the city’s economy. “With those types of findings, we need to take a very serious look at what sort of community we want to be in the future,” Tomlinson said. “Do we want to have a tax system in our community which deters people from moving in, penalizes people from moving up or down-sizing?”
This was the catalyst in her decision to host the public forums — to see how they community feels about what she calls an “outdated” tax system. 
Those that are most opposed to it are those who created the original tax freeze,” the mayor said. “And I think some of that is obviously because they felt like they did something tremendous at the time. And I think it was tremendous…at the time.” 
As the housing needs of society have changed, so should the tax system, the Mayor would argue... 
But changing a system that’s over 30 years old, won’t be easy, as the City Council has done battle with this issue before. 
“A lot of the council has been through the wars of the past and I’m sure they’re very apprehensive about teeing this up again because it’s been so divisive in the past,” Tomlinson said. “And I hope they will allow the citizens the opportunity to direct our future.” 
Meanwhile, opponents said this jeopardizes their security and they fear a ripple effect on other taxes may come from this change. 
As for next steps, the City Council would have to request that the referendum be put on the November ballot. The Georgia State Legislature would also have to approve it...

DeKalb County also offers a property tax freeze, but the freeze here seems to enjoy much broader and bipartisan support than the freeze in Columbus-Muscogee.