Monday, November 30, 2015

AJC runs poll on property tax cap

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is running a poll to gauge support for a statewide cap on property assessments. The idea for a cap was floated earlier this year by officials including state senator Fran Millar and former state representative Ed Lindsey. Although this is an unscientific Internet poll, the results are interesting. So far, support for the proposal among 189 respondents is running at 72 percent:

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Tax office closed for Thanksgiving

Decatur City Hall including the tax office will be closed on Nov. 26-27 for Thanksgiving.  If you need tax or business license information over the holiday weekend, please visit

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Attorneys General push for faster EMV adoption

Eight states and the District of Columbia are lobbying major credit card companies to rollout more secure credit cards on a faster basis. They are also arguing that in-person purchases should require PINs rather than signatures for authorization. From Government Technology magazine:

(TNS) -- Connecticut State Attorney General George Jepsen announced Monday that he is urging major credit-card processors nationwide to roll out new technology as soon as possible to help reduce data breaches affecting consumers.
Jepsen and eight other attorneys general from across the nation said in a letter Monday to companies including MasterCard, Visa, Discover Financial Services and Bank of America that they would like to see chip and PIN technology implementation speeded up. These technologies are considered to be more secure than the magnetic-stripe methods normally employed for credit cards as well as the chip-and-signature Europay, MasterCard and Visa specifications currently being implemented. 
"Over the last few years, breaches at major retailers that involved credit and debit card information have really shown a giant spotlight at the inherent weakness and vulnerability of magnetic strip cards even when the cards are lost or stolen," Jepsen said in a statement. The attorneys general said local businesses face financial and reputational risks stemming from loss of consumer trust after breaches.
Jepsen said other countries have proven the advantages of chip-and-PIN cards. "Consumers in Connecticut and across the country deserve access to the absolute best that the industry has to offer," Jepsen said. "Right now, that is chip and PIN, and I believe it's my responsibility to advocate on their behalf for it." 
Unfortunately, according to Jepsen, most U.S. chip cards rely on signatures rather than PINs, and these are easier to forge or copy...

My opinion is that faster implementation would be easier said than done. While the credit card companies have been and could continue issuing cards with chips, the bigger backlog is in merchants obtaining certified, validated hardware to read the chip and PIN data, and then to have that data transmitted or imported into their accounts receivable software.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Businesses have one week left to submit E-Verify papers

Georgia businesses with more than 10 employees have one week left to prove that they participate in E-Verify, the federal program that checks the eligibility of employees to work in the U.S.

Local revenue and regulatory officials across the state will be reporting the compliance status of all businesses and contractors to the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts in December. Their reports must include the E-Verify status of businesses that they have licensed in the past year with a cut-off date of Nov. 30, 2015.

To illustrate, if a business with more than 10 employees has a license in Decatur and if that business has not previously filed an E-Verify affidavit or confirmed an E-Verify number on file, then the Decatur Revenue Division will be reporting the business’s non-compliance to the Department of Audits. If you operate a business in Decatur and you are not sure of your compliance status, please call my office at 404-370-4100.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Super lien holders not necessarily entitled to excess funds

There are circumstances in which a super lien holder should not automatically receive excess funds from a tax sale according to a Georgia Court of Appeals ruling in the case of DLT List v. M7.  Brad Hutchins and Allie Jett from Weissman, Nowack, Curry & Wilco explain:

A super lien is created when a creditor to a property owner redeems a property tax debt before the original owner can redeem it.  Part of the reason the creditor does this is to obtain the excess funds.  This ruling could make it less desirable for investors to attempt to acquire a super lien in the first place.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

City Hall open today

City offices including the tax office will be open today from 8:00 until 5:00 p.m.  That being said, if you are making a payment to the tax office, please be aware that it will take at least an additional day for your check or e-check to clear since the post office and banks are closed today.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Georgia and Atlanta offer tax incentives for General Electric

Tax credits for creating new jobs and property tax deals are among the incentives being discussed to lure GE’s headquarters to Atlanta. The Atlanta Journal Constitution has an article about it here. Grant money may also be available to GE.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Super liens under scrutiny

WSB recently reported on the potential for abuse in the “super lien” process for foreclosing on tax delinquent properties sooner than state law normally allows.

If a property in Georgia becomes severely delinquent in taxes, the typical process is for the tax authority to bring the property for tax sale. During the sale, the minimum bid is the amount of taxes that are owed, and the bidding can go higher than that. The original owner may apply for the excess funds (the amount that was bid at sale in excess of the taxes owed), and the owner has a year in which he or she can redeem the property for the full amount bid plus a 20 percent premium. If the prior owner does not redeem the debt, the tax sale buyer can foreclose the right to redeem.

Due to the Georgia Supreme Court’s ruling in National Tax Funding v. Harpagon several years ago, an alternate method has been established in which foreclosure can occur by a third party earlier than the one year norm. This third party is another lienholder, such as a person or company that holds a medical lien or home maintenance lien on the same person who owned the property sold at tax auction. This lienholder or creditor is entitled to redeem the property. Once they have redeemed it, they are said to possess a “first lien” or “super lien” on the process. They are able to bar any further right to redeem by initiating foreclosure immediately.

Supporters of super liens say that they can be used to restore properties to tax-generating status faster. Critics say it harms the original owner’s ability to redeem the property themselves.

As tax collector for Decatur, we had a difficult situation where a tax sale buyer asserted that they did not have to pay delinquent city taxes because they had acquired a super lien by redeeming a property that had become delinquent in county taxes. Although super liens can help somebody who holds a secondary lien, one of my concerns is that other lien holders (including city governments) will not be made whole if there are not sufficient excess funds at sale.

There is definitely room for improvement and reform in the aftermath of Harpagon. WSB reports that Rep. Turner (R-Holly Springs) is advocating for legislation which would extend the redemption period to almost two years. Whether his proposal strikes the right balance remains to be seen.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

School bond referendum passes

The Decatur school bond referendum was approved yesterday by a vote of 78 percent to 22 percent. Beginning in 2016, the amount that property taxes will increase because of the school bond will depend on individual property values. The school bond millage rate will probably be 2.69 mills. Projections of how this will affect tax bills can be found on the City Schools of Decatur website here.  Taxes for a property appraised by DeKalb County at $250,000 would go up by about $335; taxes for a home worth $350,000 would go up by about $470; and taxes for a house valued at $450,000 would go up by about $600 a year.

A school bond referendum also passed in Pike County, Georgia, yesterday. Special local option sales tax referendums were also approved in Augusta, Hall County, Baldwin County, and Putnam County.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Decatur bills $688K in personal property taxes

Nearly 400 local businesses with inventory valued at $7,500 or more recently received a personal property tax bill from the City of Decatur. The amount billed totaled $687,916. About 60 percent of personal property tax revenue will go to the City Schools of Decatur and the remainder will be applied toward City funds.  The biggest bills in Decatur for 2015 went to Comcast, Noble I (Courtyard Marriott), CVS, and DeVry.

Payments, which can be made online at, are due no later than Dec. 21.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Decatur sends bills to over 250 lawyers for occupation taxes

Lawyer invoicing:
Decatur sent bills to local attorneys late last week for occupational taxes owed for 2015. If you practice locally and you do not receive a bill by November 6, please contact our office to confirm your account information and mailing address. The bills are based on existing city records and state bar directory records. The annual bill is for $400 plus a $25 administration fee. Revenues are used to provide quality services to the public. If you no longer practice law in the City, please let us know. You may also check the state bar directory at and update their address record for you if necessary.

Payment options:
Attorneys are encouraged to pay this tax online. Our website allows for payments by Visa, MasterCard, Discover, American Express, or PayPal. No additional fees are charged for paying online—just the $425 amount. There is no registration process, no login or user name, no passwords, and no PINs. Just go to, click on “Occupation Tax” on the upper left, select 2015 as the year, enter your name as it appears on your bill and click “Go.” Once you’ve accessed your record, you’ll see your option to pay. Payment is due by Dec. 31, 2015. If you prefer, payments can be made in person at 509 N. McDonough St. by cash, check, or credit card; or by mail to City of Decatur, PO Box 220, 30031. If paying by mail, please enclose the bottom portion of your invoice so we can apply your payment to the right record.

New prompt-pay incentive
Decatur’s occupation tax ordinance has been amended recently. If you pay your tax by Nov. 30, the City of Decatur will waive the $25 administration fee. Please pay online or mail in a payment of $400 by Nov. 30 to take advantage of this discount. Payment of $425 will be necessary if paying after Dec. 1.

Authority to tax:
Some attorneys practicing law in Decatur have questioned the City’s occupation tax on the basis of Barnes v. City of Atlanta. Barnes holds that such taxes must be revenue measures only, not regulatory in nature. Decatur’s occupation tax ordinance expressly states that the occupation tax is levied “for revenue purposes only and is not for regulatory purposes” (Sec. 22-15).