Friday, December 30, 2016

Tax office closed Monday

City Hall including the Revenue Division will be closed on Monday, January 2 in observance of the new year.  City departments will reopen on Tuesday, January 3.  For information or payments over the holiday weekend, tax and business license accounts can be accessed online at

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Lawyer taxes due Friday

Occupation taxes for attorneys in Decatur are due on or before Friday, December 30.  Each lawyer is responsible for paying $425 annually.  The tax can be paid online by visiting, clicking on “Occupation Tax” on the upper left, selecting 2016 as the year, and entering your name as it appears on your bill.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

State announces delay in tax refunds next year

Refunds for Georgia income tax returns in 2017 could take up to three months to be issued.  The Department of Revenue steps they take to verify taxpayer identity take longer and could delay the refunds.  From the AJC:
Georgia warns 2017 state tax refunds could be delayed
Kristina Torres | The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Friday, Dec. 2, 2016
Georgia tax officials said Friday that some 2017 refunds may be delayed due to fraud prevention efforts, a warning that comes after complaints this year that it took longer than usual to process income tax returns. 
Starting next year, all first-time Georgia income tax filers or taxpayers who have not filed here for at least five years will only be able to receive refunds in the form of a paper check and not by electronic transfer.
The state won’t begin processing individual returns until Feb. 1, with officials saying it could take more than 90 days to issue a refund if one is due...
The agency is encouraging taxpayers to register online with the department’s tax center website to monitor the status of their returns. Registered users can also get fraud alerts to notify them when a return has been filed with their Social Security number.
To sign up, go to

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Tax office to close Friday and Monday

City Hall, including the property tax office, will be closed from December 23 through December 26 for Christmas.  We will re-open Tuesday, December 27 at 8:00 a.m.  Tax and business license information is available anytime at

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Grace period offered for tax payments

Although property tax payments in Decatur for the second installment of 2016 were due yesterday, there is a grace period until Friday, January 6, 2017.  No penalties or interest will be added to accounts that are paid within the grace period. Please mail payments to:

City of Decatur Lockbox
P.O. Box 945650
Atlanta, GA 30394-5650

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Lowndes County to begin appointing assessors

In most of Georgia, property tax assessors are appointed to their positions. In Lowndes County, this has been an elected position. That will change now that voters have approved the appointment of assessors going forward. The stated reason for the change is that elected assessors don't always have the training and expertise to carry out their duties. From the Dalton Citizen:

Assessor referendum passes

By John Stephen
VALDOSTA, Ga. — The Lowndes County special ballot asking if tax assessors should be appointed narrowly passed 50.27 to 49.73 percent, according to the county’s board of elections.
Results show 18,293 people voted for tax assessors to be appointed by county commissioners, and 18,095 people voted for tax assessors to continue being elected by the public — a difference of only 198 votes.
While all votes from local precincts were counted after Election Day on Nov. 8, up to 2,000 provisional, absentee and military ballots still needed to be counted. Until those remaining votes were tallied at the elections office on Tuesday, Nov. 15, the race was too close to call.
Currently, Lowndes County tax assessors are elected by the public. In every other county in Georgia, tax assessors are appointed by the county commissioners.
The ballot asked if the state should repeal the constitutional amendment that mandates Lowndes County tax assessors be elected. Now that the repeal has passed, tax assessors will be appointed by the Lowndes County Board of Commissioners starting in 2021.
The county commissioners pioneered the ballot question after discussing the change for several years. Board of Commissioners Chairman Bill Slaughter said while the current tax assessors have good intentions, he questioned whether they have the managerial skills necessary to oversee the large tax assessor’s office...

Monday, December 19, 2016

Tax payments due Tuesday

Property tax payments in Decatur for the second installment of 2016 are due on or before Tuesday, December 20. The City accepts payments without charging interest as long as the payment envelope is postmarked by the due date. Please mail payments to:

City of Decatur Lockbox
P.O. Box 945650
Atlanta, GA 30394-5650

Friday, December 16, 2016

Columbus voters keep property taxes frozen

One of the bigger property tax-related proposals on the ballot in Georgia this year was a repeal of the property assessment freeze in Columbus. Opponents of the freeze, including the Muscogee County school board and Columbus mayor Teresa Tomlinson, said that the freeze suppresses economic activity by discouraging home improvements and property sales. However, in the end, people weren't sold by the argument and chose to keep the freeze. Sixty percent of residents voted against a "thaw."

This is the third time that a repeal of the Columbus freeze has been defeated. It goes to show that a permanent freeze is difficult to tweak even if there are valid reasons to alter it. It also probably helps explain why DeKalb County's property tax freezes sunset every few years instead of being permanent. From the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer:
...If the referendum had passed, it would have kept the freeze in place for all who are currently under it, but would have put any homestead property bought after Jan. 1, 2017, under a more traditional fair market value system, where property is regularly reassessed. Those properties under the freeze would have remained so until they changed hands, whether by sale or probate. They would have then go into the fair market value system. Eventually, all frozen property would have changed hands and no property would have remained under the freeze.

The property tax assessment freeze was voted into effect in 1982. It freezes the assessed value of a homestead property at the value at the time of the sale and keeps it there until the property changes hands. It is then reassessed at the current value and again frozen at that value.

It has been challenged before, both at the polls and in the courts, and the challenges failed both times.

Voters initially approved the freeze by a 73-27 percent margin in 1982. A 1991 attempt to repeal the freeze by referendum failed by an 81-19 percent margin.

In the early 2000s, a group challenged the freeze’s constitutionality and won a favorable ruling at the Superior Court level. But the state and then federal supreme courts ruled it constitutional...

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

If paying by e-check, please remit today or tomorrow

If you are planning to pay your second installment Decatur property tax bill with an electronic check on our website at, I encourage you to make your payment no later than Wednesday, December 14. Like paper checks, e-checks can take three to five business days to clear the bank. It's not an immediate debit. Our formal payment deadline this installment is December 20, 2016.

Our website allows for e-check payments with no convenience fee charged, and credit card payments with convenience fees. We also continue to accept payments by mail or in-person up through the payment due date. If you have any issues with the website or the e-check option, please call the Revenue office at 404-370-4100 or 678-553-6743.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Qualified homeowners to receive new exemptions

As noted below, most seniors will be granted the new age-65 homestead exemption from school taxes automatically.

The new school exemption, which is called the S-4, will be factored onto the accounts of any homeowner with the already existing age-65 exemption known as the GH-2. No separate application is needed.

However, qualified homeowners who have never applied for the GH2, such as people who turned 65 during 2016, should visit City Hall at 509 North McDonough Street to apply between Jan. 3-Mar. 15, 2017. You will need to bring photo ID showing age and address.

Homeowners over the age of 62 with income under $50,000 may also qualify for another new homestead exemption approved in November, which is the GH-3. If the homeowner’s Georgia taxable net income plus the income of his or her spouse and the income of any resident family member totals less than $50,000, then the homeowner is eligible to apply for this new GH-3 exemption. This exemption will reduce the taxable value of a home by $15,000 for a projected annual savings of approximately $160 (computed using current millage rates which are subject to change). To apply for the GH-3, please come to City Hall between Jan. 3-Mar. 15 with a copy of your most recent available tax return and photo ID showing age and address.

Two other ballot questions that were approved do not create new exemptions, but expand existing exemptions. Homeowners do not need to re-apply to receive the full benefit. The increased exemption amounts will be granted automatically.

Homeowners who turned 62, 65, 70, or 80 during 2016 are encouraged to call the Decatur Revenue Division at 678-553-6743 to determine if they have become qualified for an exemption for which they were not previously eligible. To qualify for any age-based exemption, the claimant must be the age specified before January 1 of the tax year for which the exemption is sought.

Further information on Decatur’s other homestead exemption and tax relief programs can be found at

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Voters expand homestead exemptions in Decatur

Unofficial results from yesterday's election show that all four proposals to expand property tax homestead exemptions in Decatur passed, including a ballot question that will exempt homeowners over the age of 65 from school taxes beginning in 2017.  Voters also approved a fifth measure which eliminates an exemption that was no longer in effect.

The vote on Senate Bill 339, which increases the basic homestead exemption to exempt $25,000 in assessed value, was the most decisive result with 86 percent approval.

SB 340, which increases the amount of assessed value exempted for homeowners over the age of 65, passed by 83 percent.

Voters favored the creation of a new exemption under SB 342 for homeowners over 62 with income under $50,000.

SB 343, the senior school tax exemption, proved to be the most controversial of the measures, but still passed handily at 75 percent.

Homeowners in Decatur who currently have the existing age 65 homestead exemption, the "GH2," will be granted the new school exemption automatically in 2017.  Homeowners with the basic homestead exemption do not have to reapply to receive the increased exemption amount; that will also be granted automatically.  The City of Decatur will provide further guidance to homeowners on how and when to apply for the new exemption under SB 342 after the election results have been certified.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Decatur offers discount on lawyers' occupation taxes

Last week, Decatur billed over 250 attorneys practicing law in the city. The annual occupation tax bill is $400 plus a $25 administration fee. For lawyers who pay their tax by Nov. 30, the City of Decatur will discount the bill by waiving the $25 fee.  Revenues from the tax are used to provide quality services to the public.

The tax can be paid online. Decatur's occupation tax website allows for payments by Visa, MasterCard, Discover, American Express, PayPal, or e-check. No additional fees are charged for paying online. To use this option, go to, click on “Occupation Tax” on the upper left, select 2016 as the year, and enter your name as it appears on your bill. Once you’ve accessed your record, click “Renew,” and you’ll see your option to pay. If paying before Nov. 30, adjust your payment amount to $400.

If you or someone in your firm practices law in Decatur but have not received a bill, or if you have any questions, please call our office at 678-553-6743 or email us at

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Decatur tax bills online for 2016

Decatur property tax bills for the second installment of 2016 are online now. You can view, print, or pay your bill at Payments can be made by e-check with no processing fees. Credit card payments are accepted with a processing fee charged by a third-party provider. You can pay by check or cash if you prefer.  More details including how the bills and fees were calculated, key dates, and information about exemptions are included in our "Tax Notes" here.

Paper bills were mailed last week. If you have not received your printed bill within the next few days, please use our website to obtain your bill, or call us at 678-553-6506.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Now hiring

Decatur is searching for a new administrative assistant who will alternate duties between the Revenue Division and the city's human resources office. Information about the job can be found here. This position is a unique opportunity to learn and assist with both financial and personnel services in City Hall.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Legislators intend to fix the equalized HOST

In 2015, the General Assembly passed House Bill 215, which authorized a vote in 2016 for a new, "equalized" homestead option sales tax (HOST) and special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) that would alter the formula for a local sales tax for infrastructure improvements and property tax credit offsets. The legislature also approved HB 596, authorized a vote to extend the existing property tax "freeze," which locks in homeowner values for the purposes of county tax billing. HB 215 included language that said the freeze would be suspended if an equalized HOST were in effect. Realizing that this would increase homeowners' tax bills, officials have decided not to put the sales tax measure on the ballot. HB 596 will appear on November ballots as regularly scheduled to extend the freeze.

Members of the DeKalb legislative delegation is saying that they will work quickly in the 2017 session to correct HB 215 for a vote. Crossroads News has the details on the legislators' plans:
DeKalb delegation to change law hampering county SPLOST
The DeKalb delegation to the Georgia General Assembly is preparing to fix a state law that derailed a DeKalb County government Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax in July.
The DeKalb Board of Commissioners was preparing to vote to place a 1 percent sales tax referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot to fund road paving and other infrastructure improvements when it discovered that House Bill 596 would have eliminated property tax relief for homeowners.
The SPLOST would have generated $551 million over five years with $377.7 million going to the county and the rest to the cities.
Now commissioners like Larry Johnson, who represents District 3 and is the BOC’s presiding officer, are pushing for the law to be amended. Johnson said more than $200 million will be spent in South DeKalb if voters approve the SPLOST.
“That is money that will fix our roads and improve our parks and libraries,” he said. “We need that money to make improvements.”
State Sen. Emanuel Jones, who attended a Sept. 20 SPLOST update meeting hosted by Johnson, said he is working to change the law in the early weeks of the 2017 legislative session so that the referendum can be on the March 2017 ballot. “It’s an accelerated time line but we can do it,” Jones told the meeting...

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Info session scheduled on proposed homestead exemptions

If you would like to learn more about the proposed, expanded property tax exemptions in Decatur, including the school tax exemption for homeowners over the age of 65, a session will be held on October 20 at 6:30 p.m. at the Decatur Recreation Center at 231 Sycamore Street.  This will certainly be the best opportunity to learn more about the proposals before voters consider them on Election Day.  From the October edition of the Decatur Focus:
Decatur's Lifelong Community Advisory Board's Taxation and Affordability Committee is hosting a Third Thursday information session for Decatur residents to learn more about the new homestead exemptions that will come up for vote on the Nov. 8 ballot.  Join them to learn more.
A panel from the City Schools of Decatur and the City of Decatur will answer questions and provide information about these five homestead exemptions.  One of them is an exemption from school property taxes for homeowners over the age of 65--an exemption that expires in five years, when it will be reevaluated.
For more information about the Decatur for a Lifetime initiative or the board, contact Lee Ann Harvey at 678-553-6548 or

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Georgia puts tax lien on 'real housewife of Atlanta'

A lien has been filed against Atlanta-area celebrity NeNe Leakes. The lien is apparently for almost $100,000 in unpaid state income taxes. This comes after receiving a much larger federal tax lien. From the Daily Mail:

EXCLUSIVE: Real Housewives of Atlanta star NeNe Leakes hit with ANOTHER tax lien and now owes almost $1 million in back taxes - as IRS threatens to seize her assets

  • Former Real Housewives of Atlanta star NeNe Leakes was hit with a state tax lien on September 22 in Georgia court She is accused of refusing to pay a total of $95,232.92 in 2014 state taxes 
  • The lien comes after she was hit with a $824,366.01 federal tax lien in July for refusing to pay federal back taxes for 2014 Leakes appeared on the 18th season of Dancing with the Stars - where she placed seventh
  • That same year, she announced the launch of The NeNe Leakes Collection on the Home Shopping Network
  • If she does not pay her debt soon, the Georgia Department of Revenue will also begin the process of seizing her assets and property
Former Real Housewives of Atlanta star NeNe Leakes' financial troubles continue to worsen as she was hit with a second tax lien in four months - this time for nearly $100,000.
Leakes, whose real name is Linnethia Monique Leakes, was hit with a state tax lien from the Georgia Department of Revenue for $95,232.92 on September 22 over unpaid taxes from 2014.
In July, the federal government also hit the 48-year-old reality star with a tax lien, threatening to seize her assets if she didn’t pay $824,366.01 in back federal taxes from the same year.
The state tax lien that was filed in September shows that Leakes originally owed $58,458, but it has grown with interest ($9,715.71), penalties ($15,317.61), collection fees ($11,691.60) and other costs.
If she does not pay her debt soon, the Department of Revenue will begin the process of seizing her assets and property.
The federal and state liens still remain active, meaning she has yet to pay off her debt...

Friday, October 14, 2016

Using tax digests for genealogical research

According to a recent article by the Augusta Genealogical Society, property tax digests can be a great tool for historical and genealogical research.  I am somewhat surprised by this since tax digests are not permanent records under the state retention schedule.  In Georgia, tax digests are temporary records to be retained for 14 years.  That being said, I imagine that a lot of counties haven't destroyed their old tax digests, and the article points out that has a large collection.  Records probably vary a lot from county to county, and it sounds useful if a county has maintained them.  Here are the Augusta Genealogical Society's insights:
Your Story: Tax records invaluable for genealogical work
By Augusta Genealogical Society
Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016
One of the most valuable, yet overlooked record sets for genealogical research is the tax digest.
When census records are missing, tax records can fill the gap, showing residence in a particular place at a particular time. Combined with other evidence, a number of facts can be gleaned from extant tax digest. But extracting information from the digest requires patience and perseverance.
Regardless of the state or county in which your ancestors lived, tax records were created, although not all have survived. A check of the websites for the state archives where your family lived might be helpful in determining what is obtainable. It is also important to understand what the tax records imply, which can change from year to year according to the laws established by the state Legislature for each year.
In Georgia, many tax digests have been preserved. Original digests can often still be found in county courthouses, either in the office of the Superior Court clerk or Probate Court, or in the county archives or records retention facility. Most have been microfilmed and are held by the Georgia Archives in Morrow. Some, but very few, are indexed.
Many 18th century Georgia tax digests have been digitized and can be accessed from the comfort of your own home and computer by signing into Georgia’s Virtual Vault. also has a large collection of late 18th and 19th century Georgia tax digests that are accessible online. Although is a subscription site, it can often be accessed through your local public library. So far, Georgia tax digests found on are not complete for every county, but they certainly are worth checking before resorting to rolling through microfilm...

Thursday, October 13, 2016

City official predicts 3 years before motor vehicle tax revenues "disappear"

Cedartown city manager Bill Fann says that local ad valorem tax revenues from cars and trucks in Georgia will virtually vanish in three years.  The state reformed the "birthday tax" system several years ago, and local governments were concerned at the time that the redesigned system would eventually lead to decreased revenues.  From the Polk County Standard Journal:
...It’s a problem all local governments are facing, and city manager Bill Fann has one big answer as to why: ad valorem tax is disappearing for motor vehicles.
“The [Cedartown] millage rate has been virtually constant, yet the net ad valorem tax revenue is down from 2012 to 2016,” he said. 
He said because Georgia’s annual motor vehicle tax is almost non-existent, with it being replaced by payments made when a vehicle is first purchased followed by an annual tag fee each year, the money that cities and counties once relied on to help decrease taxes overall isn’t there anymore.
“It’ll be three years before it virtually disappears,” he said...

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

State proposes rule to strike non-taxable properties from county digests

The Georgia Department of Revenue has proposed a rule that would establish a process to remove exempt properties that are listed "illegally" in county digests.  I am not sure what prompted this proposed rule or what the intent of it is.  Maybe there hasn't been a clear procedure before if a county doesn't regard a property as tax-exempt, but DOR thinks it should be exempt.

On the one hand, it makes more sense to me for assessors to determine what is taxable since that is part of their job. On the other hand, if there is a disagreement between the state and the local assessors, and that disagreement could delay approval of the county's digest, then it may be better to give the state this type of line-item authority.

DOR will consider the 11-page proposed rule on Oct. 31 at 10 a.m. at 1800 Century Boulevard.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Fulton County chief tax appraiser fired

The chief tax appraiser of Fulton County was fired last month. David Fitzgibbon was blamed for miscalculations that led to a delay in Fulton County's property tax billing. Note that it was the board of assessors, not the tax commissioner nor county commission, that had authority over this matter. From 11 Alive:
FULTON COUNTY, Ga. -- Fulton County's chief tax appraiser has been fired after a miscalculation in property taxes delayed bills from going out by nearly two months. 
Late Thursday, the Tax Assessor's Board voted to terminate David Fitzgibbon's employment after a two-hour meeting. As chief tax appraiser, Fitzgibbon is responsible for setting the county's tax rates and sending out tax bills. He failed at both this year, 11Alive Investigator Catie Beck has uncovered.

A county vendor provided wrong numbers and delayed bills from going out in July to being sent in September. County board members blamed Fitzgibbon's office for not finding the problem sooner and for stalling operating budgets across the county. 
Several members of the county board called for increased accountability for the commissioner after the debacle caused confusion and distraction within several municipalities. 
Fitzgibbon has taken no responsibility for the mistake and claims the board was acting under political pressure from county commissioners. 
"It was the software vendor -- the software vendor's contract is with the IT department and the tax commissioner," he said. "The issues were on the tax commissioner's side and not the assessor's side." 

The tax commissioner of Fulton County is Arthur Ferdinand.

Monday, October 10, 2016

State puts stop to Irwin County tax increase

The Georgia Department of Revenue is very serious about the requirements for advertising adoption of local tax rates annually.  Although Irwin County advertised a tax increase, and the Irwin County board of commissioners approved the increase, it was determined that the advertisement was flawed.  Now, rather than moving forward with its planned increase, Irwin will maintain its millage rate from last year.  From WALB:
IRWIN CO., GA (WALB) - Irwin County commissioners approved a property tax increase several weeks ago, but it will not go into effect. Officials said an error in the way they told the public about the change caused their tax digest to be rejected by the state. 
The saying goes that taxes are one of the only certain things in life..
And, an Irwin County millage rate increase of 1.25 seemed locked in when commissioners approved it several weeks ago.  But on Monday, the county got word that the increase in its tax digest would not go into effect.
"We sent in our digest and due to our advertisement of the intention of going up on taxes was worded wrong. So, the Department of Revenue did reject our digest," said Commission Chairman Joey Whitley. Whitley said the county did put out ads and held several public hearings on the proposed increase, but ultimately didn't meet the full requirements needed to tell the public about the change. "In the new format the Department of Revenue has, you have to explain what it would cost for say a $100,000 house, what the actually tax increase was and that was not in our ads," said Whitley. And in response to the rejection of its digest, Whitley said the county commission agreed to keep the millage rate where it currently stands at 12.375.
The group could meet a September first deadline to submit its tax policies for the year. But, Whitley said the rejection of the property tax increase also means the county government may need to make cuts to offset the lack of revenue...

Friday, September 2, 2016

Tax office closed for Labor Day

Decatur's tax office will be closed on Monday, September 5. If you need immediate information over the holiday weekend, please go to Since the post office and banks will also be closed, please expect any payments that you have recently sent in to take some additional time to clear and be posted to your account. We will reopen on September 6 at 8 a.m.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

DeKalb still accepts payments in two installments

The Decatur Revenue Division, which is a separate tax office from DeKalb’s, has received a couple of phone calls asking whether DeKalb or Decatur have changed to single-installment billing for property taxes. The answer is no. These questions resulted from a television news report about a request from DeKalb County to mortgage companies to make one payment instead of two. The report profiled a taxpayer whose mortgage payment went up by an unspecified amount as a result of her lender making one lump payment to DeKalb instead of two.  

DeKalb County tax commissioner Irvin Johnson has since clarified in a press release that no mortgage company is required to pay the total amount up front. DeKalb has not eliminated the option to pay in two installments, either for lenders or for property owners who don’t pay their taxes out of escrow.

While we’re on the subject, it may be worth pointing out a few differences between DeKalb County and Decatur’s installment billing. Decatur bills property taxes in two separate installments per year. My office sends taxpayers two separate bills each year, with a different amount on each of the two bills, which are due on two separate dates. Our installments are about six months apart. We do not accept a payment for the full year during the first installment because we do not know how much the second installment bill will be until later in the year. If a mortgage company or individual attempts to double their first installment payment as a pre-payment for the full year, we refund the overage. It is our policy not to accept funds that are not yet known to be owed to Decatur.

Although the term “installments” is used for DeKalb’s property taxes, I don’t really consider the county's system to be a two-installment billing like Decatur’s. DeKalb basically issues one bill with two payment stubs allowing a taxpayer to spread out his or her payment by six weeks without accruing interest charges. But it’s still basically one bill.

Both systems have their pluses and minuses, and this example helps illustrate how changes in installment policies can potentially affect mortgage payments.

Monday, August 29, 2016

GBI investigates improper homestead exemption

A Twiggs County commissioner allegedly attempted to "transfer" his disabled veterans exemption onto a house occupied by his son.  It is also alleged that he told a relative in the tax assessors office to make the change.  The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is looking into the case.

The disabled veterans property tax break is a statewide exemption available to a homeowner for their primary residence if they are considered 100 percent disabled by the federal Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).  Commissioner Tommie Lee Bryant is also accused of receiving the exemption for 20 years although he is considered 60 percent disabled.

During a Georgia Association of Tax Commissioners conference a couple of years ago, I heard a speaker from the Georgia Department of Veterans Service who argued that veterans who are compensated at a 100 percent level in terms of their benefits should also be granted the disabled veterans homestead exemption, even if they are not considered 100 percent disabled by the VA.  I think that is an appropriate standard if the applicant can document that he or she is being compensated at a 100 percent level.  From the news reports, it is difficult to tell whether or not Commissioner Bryant has that documentation.

I was somewhat surprised that the state has become involved in what looks at first glance to be an administrative question about property tax exemption eligibility.  However, using one's authority as a public official and influencing a relative to make the change probably escalated this case beyond the basic eligibility question.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

More taxpayers opting for web payments

Online tax payments to the City of Decatur increased by 70 percent during our last fiscal year compared to the prior year. From July 2015 through June 2016, the city received over 1,600 web payments (credit card or e-check) for property taxes in excess of $4 million. The year before that, the city received 945 web payments for $2 million in taxes. The city has also experienced a 60 percent increase in the number of businesses renewing their license online with 18 percent of businesses now choosing to pay that way.

Paying online at has several advantages over sending checks through the mail or using an online bill paying service through a personal bank account. If you currently pay your taxes online through your personal bank account, we encourage you to consider switching to pay with an e-check directly through our website. At, you can access a full copy of your tax bill, while most major online banking services do not provide detailed bills. Secondly, using an online bill paying feature through your personal bank account may not allow you to include your property ID and tax year with your payment, which are the two essential pieces of information we need to post your payment to your account in a timely and accurate fashion. (Paying with an e-check through our website automatically provides the city with the property ID and tax year information.) Lastly, the e-check service we use is truly electronic, and no paper checks are generated or printed during the process, but with your online bill pay checks, we actually receive those checks as paper. 

Taxpayers should be aware that e-checks, like paper checks, generally take three to five days to clear the bank. It is not an immediate debit like online credit card transactions. Considering the clearing period, e-check payers are encouraged to pay at least five days prior to any formal payment deadline to help prevent any last-minute stress over whether your payment was received on time.

As part of the city's ongoing commitment to provide customers with electronic options, Decatur also accepts online payments for recreation programs, after-school and summer camp registration, parking tickets, commercial sanitation services, and storm water drainage fees.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Review of helpful book on tax lien and deed investing

The Complete Guide to Investing in Real Estate Tax Liens & Deeds, Revised Second Edition (2015) by Alan Northcott is a how-to guide for people interested in investing in tax sale and tax lien properties. Northcott, a tax sale investor himself, shows how liens, tax deeds, and tax sales work in different states and local jurisdictions. The book provides many tables and charts allowing investors to compare redemption periods by state and the variety of premiums associated with redemption, in other words, the different potential returns on investment (ROI). These charts allow investors to make more informed decisions about which jurisdictions best suit the individual investor’s needs.

As a property tax administrator, I felt that the book was also helpful to put our own practices as a municipality into a broader context. For example, I did not realize than many jurisdictions require investors to register before they can bid at tax sales. Also, I did not fully realize that some states are “tax lien” states, meaning that they authorize local governments only to sell tax liens, not the underlying deed, while other states are pure “tax deed” states, where ownership immediately transfers from the delinquent owner to the successful bidder after a tax sale. The book describes Georgia as one of 11 “hybrid tax deed” states, where ownership is transferred if the original owner does not redeem the property within the required time period. I also found it useful to see which states are most closely aligned with Georgia’s practices. Tennessee appears to share several traits with Georgia’s delinquent collections and tax sale law. This information could be helpful when building peer relationships in other states. In property tax world, opportunities for networking and professional development exist within states, but not usually across state lines since there is no national property tax.

One aspect of the book I didn’t agree with was its assertion that most property owners who lose their properties at tax sales redeem their property, resulting in predictable returns on investment for tax lien and tax deed investors. In my experience in our location, that is not the case. To illustrate, picture a property owner who cannot pay $5,000 in back taxes. The property is auctioned at a tax sale for $100,000. The redemption amount in Georgia would be $120,000. The original owner receives the excess funds from the sale minus the taxes ($95,000). Now the original owner is $25,000 short from the redemption price. If the owner couldn’t come up with $5,000 to prevent the tax sale in the first place, the owner will rarely be able to come up with $25,000 to redeem their property. Northcott’s statement may be correct in the context of states with smaller premiums, but investors should be aware of that may not be the case everywhere.

An unexpected bonus about 85 percent of the way into the book is a very helpful chart and explanation of “first liens.” In order to foreclose the right to redeem on a property, the holder of a “second tax lien” has to pay off the first lien. Somebody with a third lien would have to pay off the first and second liens. Mortgages and other private debts constitute lesser liens than tax liens. Lesser precedent liens and mortgages do not have to be paid off in order for the holder of a first lien to foreclose the right to redeem. This is an essential concept to understand in Georgia, where case law has indicated that a creditor who redeems a property previously sold at a tax sale obtains a first lien or “super lien” that trumps other liens.

I recommend this book to people considering tax sale investments and to property tax professionals involved with delinquent collections.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Missing mail? Post office offers online tool

If your mail hasn't arrived after 7 business days, the post office has a new solution for you to report it.  Even if you didn't pay for tracking, you can report and search for missing mail or packages.

To use the service, go to  You have to have an online account with USPS for it to work.  Once you've logged in, the website will ask you for the mailing date, how it was mailed (such as first class), where you want the mail returned to if found, who to contact about the mail, and the contents of the mail.

As a billing agency, especially when dealing with delinquent accounts, we hear many comments such as, "I never got a bill."  My office has made mistakes with mail-outs, and sometimes it's the property owner who is mistaken, but we also hear several credible complaints each billing cycle that a bill or payment was literally lost in the mail.

We also interact with many Decatur residents, dozens of whom have complained for years to us about postal delivery service in Decatur.  Since the post office is a federal agency which is totally separate from city government, all we have typically been able to do is to refer those residents to the post office or to the postmaster.  It is nice to know that this additional tool is available.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Referendum set for homestead exemptions

The City Commission has approved a call for a special election this November to expand several homestead exemptions. Homestead exemptions reduce property taxes for eligible homeowners by reducing the assessed value of their homes. Five separate questions will be posed on the ballot.

The first ballot question, which refers to Senate Bill 339, would increase the amount exempted for a basic homestead exemption from $20,000 to $25,000. The second question, referring to SB 340, would increase an existing exemption for homeowners over the age of 65 from $1,000 to $10,000. The third question refers to SB 341 which will remove an obsolete exemption from the books. The fourth question would create a new exemption for low to moderate income homeowners over age 62 per SB 342. The final question is an exemption from school property taxes for homeowners over the age of 65—an exemption that would expire in five years if it is not renewed by then.

Here is the wording of Decatur’s homestead exemption ballot questions:

Senate Bill 339, Act No. 382
Shall the Act be approved which provides a homestead exemption from City of Decatur ad valorem taxes for municipal purposes in the amount of $25,000.00 of the assessed value of the homestead for residents of the City of Decatur?
( ) YES
( ) NO

Senate Bill 340, Act No. 383
Shall the Act be approved which provides a homestead exemption from City of Decatur ad valorem taxes for municipal purposes and from City of Decatur independent school district ad valorem taxes for educational purposes in the amount of $50,000.00 of the assessed value of the homestead for residents of that city who are 62 years of age or older and whose income does not exceed $25,000.000, and which provides a homestead exemption from City of Decatur ad valorem taxes for municipal purposes in the amount of $10,000.00 of the assessed value of the homestead for residents of that city who are 65 years of age or older?
( ) YES
( ) NO

Senate Bill 341, Act No. 384
Shall the Act be approved which repeals an obsolete homestead exemption for the residents of the City of Decatur?
( ) YES
( ) NO

Senate Bill 342, Act No. 385
Shall the Act be approved which provides a homestead exemption from City of Decatur ad valorem taxes for municipal purposes except for ad valorem taxes levied to pay interest on and to retire municipal bonded indebtedness in the amount of $15,000.00 of the assessed value of the homestead for residents of that city who are 62 years of age or older and whose income does not exceed $50,000.00?
( ) YES
( ) NO

Senate Bill 343, Act No. 386
Shall the Act be provided which provides a homestead exemption from City of Decatur independent school district ad valorem taxes for educational purposes for five years in the full amount of the assessed value of the homestead for residents of that school district who are 65 years of age or older?
( ) YES
( ) NO

Friday, August 5, 2016

DeKalb sets millage rates

DeKalb County approved its mid-year budget adjustments and millage rates during their July 19 meeting. The millage rates include tax levies for both unincorporated DeKalb County and rates specific to city residents for county property tax billing purposes. The millage rate for county tax bills on properties within Decatur’s city limits is described in DeKalb’s levying resolution as follows:
A Tax of $10.715 per every $1,000.00 of assessed valuation is levied on all taxable property within the corporate limits of Decatur in said County, for General County Purposes to pay expenses of administration of County Government, build and repair public buildings and bridges, and pay expenses of Courts, Sheriffs, litigation and support of prisoners, pursuant to Article IX, Section IV, Paragraph I of the Constitution of the State of Georgia (9.240); to provide for the expenditures designated in the contract with the Fulton-DeKalb Hospital Authority and the DeKalb Hospital Authority (0.740); and to pay expenses of County nonbasic police protection (0.207), and street and road maintenance of curbs, sidewalks, streetlights, and devices to control the flow of traffic on streets and roads, or any combination thereof (0.528), pursuant to the DeKalb County Special Services Tax Districts Act, Ga. L. 1982, p. 4396, as amended. 

The county millage rate on Decatur properties of 10.715 is lower than in 2015, when it was 11.92 mills. Decatur sets its own millage rates for the purposes of city property tax billing separate from the county.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Decatur finalizes millage rates for 2016

During their Monday night meeting, the Decatur City Commission adopted the school millage rate approved earlier by the Decatur Board of Education.  The school millage rate of 18.66 is the same as it was last year.  The City approved its own millage rates in June.  The combined millage rate for 2016 is 31.83 mills as shown in the table below.

General Fund
School Bond

The combined millage rate during the 1st installment billing was 32.23 mills.  The millage rate for 2015 was 30.66 and did not include a school bond charge.

Monday, August 1, 2016

City Commission considers tax proposals

Decatur’s City Commission will vote tonight on the school board’s proposed property tax millage rate for 2016. The school board previously voted to maintain its existing rate from 2015 of 18.66 mills. Decatur’s charter requires the City Commission to approve the rate proposed by the school board.

The City Commission will also consider calling an election to vote on several proposed homestead exemptions. This is for the exemptions authorized by the state legislature earlier this year for public referendum in November. The ballot measures would include adding a new school exemption for seniors, adding a new city exemption, expanding two existing city exemptions, and repealing a defunct exemption provision.

The meeting will take place at City Hall, 509 North McDonough Street, at 7:30 p.m. with the property tax-related items toward the beginning of the meeting.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Georgia sales tax holiday this weekend

Just in time for back-to-school shopping, many items on sale this weekend in Georgia will be exempt from sales taxes. From July 30 to 31, most clothing, computer equipment, and school supplies will be tax-exempt. The clothing exemption applies to merchandise under $100 per item including clothes, accessories, diapers and athletic gear; the technology exemption applies to computers and computer components under $1,000; and the school supply exemption applies to products under $20 per item. For details and a fuller listing of non-taxable and taxable items, see the Georgia Department of Revenue’s fact sheet here.

In Decatur and DeKalb County, this holiday means a potential savings of 7 percent on eligible purchases.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Irvin Johnson wins tax commissioner runoff

Irvin Johnson, who is currently serving as DeKalb County's tax commissioner, won a special non-partisan runoff election on Tuesday to fill the duration of the current term vacated by previous tax commissioner Claudia Lawson.  Mr. Johnson also won the Democratic primary nomination for the upcoming four-year term.  Because he has no Republican opposition, he will retain the office.  The  The Champion has an article on his victory:
Johnson retains tax commissioner's office 
Interim tax commissioner Irvin Johnson retained his seat as the county’s highest paid official on July 26 during a run-off election.
Johnson received 62.2 percent of the vote with all precincts reporting whereas Susannah Scott received 37.8 percent.
“It feels great,” Johnson said Tuesday night. “Now it’s time to move on and continue doing the work of the tax commissioner and tax office. I thank my constituents for their votes and good race.”
Johnson congratulated his opponent, Scott, for a good and clean contest.
Johnson ran a campaign promising continued innovation and ease at the tax commissioner’s office, touting his accomplishments in the form of self-serving kiosks and public tax bill seminar sessions. Johnson also credits his 15 years of experience at the tax commissioner’s office and serving as his predecessor’s top deputy.
Scott ran her campaign with the promise of extending tax office hours for the ease of potential constituents. She admitted the tax commissioner’s office was one of the best run offices in the county and promised to continued that tradition.
“Irvin Johnson is absolutely the best choice to lead a staff of excellent public servants dedicated to doing the right thing for all taxpayers in DeKalb County,” said Claudia Lawson, former DeKalb County tax commissioner and boss to Johnson. “I inherited this tradition of customer service excellence from my predecessors Eugene E. Adams and Tom Scott and I’m confident that Irvin will honor that tradition.”

Duties of tax commissioners include preparation of digests, collection of taxes, and issuance of liens for delinquent taxes. The DeKalb County tax commissioner collects property taxes in unincorporated DeKalb and in DeKalb's cities. The City of Decatur collects its own real and personal property taxes, but relies on DeKalb for services such as digest preparation and motor vehicle tax transfers.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

School superintendent recommends steady millage rate

The superintendent and staff of the City Schools of Decatur have made a recommendation to the board of education to maintain the school system's property tax rate of 18.66 mills.  A copy of the presentation appears below, which includes a chart showing changes in the school millage rate over the past 15 years on slide 5.

Taken together with the City's reduction in its general millage rate for operations, the total millage rate for Decatur taxpayers is decreasing for 2016; however, rising property values in 2016 will cause many bills to be higher than in 2015.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Tax commissioner candidates to appear at final forum

Candidates for DeKalb County tax commissioner will face-off during a forum on Tuesday, July 19, at 6:30 p.m. at the Mainstreet Community Clubhouse at 5001 Mainstreet Park Drive in Stone Mountain. Irvin Johnson and Susannah Scott will be on the ballot for a July 26, 2016, runoff election after finishing as the top two vote getters in last month’s primary election. This will probably be the last chance for voters to hear from both of the candidates together before the runoff. The forum is being hosted by the Mainstreet Community Association.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

DeKalb deadline to appeal value is July 18

Property owners in DeKalb County, Georgia, received a notice early last month showing their property assessment for 2016. Owners who intend to appeal the assessment must appeal within 45 days, which will end on July 18.  The deadline applies to county residents and residents of cities in DeKalb, including Decatur.

If you did not receive or lost your notice, I recommend that you go to DeKalb’s website. From, click on “Real Estate Data,” search for your property, and once your record comes up, and click under the “Assessment Notice” area to see a PDF of your 2016 assessment notice.

An owner whose property has been overvalued and who has evidence to support an appeal, such as lower values of comparable properties, may want to consider appealing their assessment. DeKalb’s website allows for electronic filing of appeals.

To reach the DeKalb tax assessor/property appraisal department, call 404-371-0841. For filing an appeal in person, go to 1300 Commerce Drive in the Maloof Annex. They will have a high volume of calls and foot traffic on Monday.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Metro jurisdictions consider decreases or no changes to tax rates

Most of the major jurisdictions in metro Atlanta have adopted or are considering to adopt millage rates that are either the same or slightly lower in 2016 compared to 2015:

Atlanta:  Net decrease
Cobb Board of Education:  Increase
Cobb County:  Decrease
Decatur: Decrease
Decatur Board of Education: No change
DeKalb Board of Education:  No change
DeKalb County:  Decrease
Fulton Board of Education:  No change
Gwinnett Board of Education:  No change
Gwinnett County:  Decrease
Marietta:  Decrease
Marietta Board of Education:  No change

Most of the proposed decreases in millage rates will be offset because property values are on the rise throughout the area.  However, Gwinnett County is considering a decrease in the millage rate large enough to offset their rising values.

Overall, city and county governments appear likelier to approve a millage rate decrease this year, while the school systems intend to keep their millage rates steady.  One exception is the Cobb County board of education, which is considering an increase.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Metro property values on the rise

The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that property assessments have increased between 7 to 11 percent in four of the larger counties in metro Atlanta for 2016 compared to last year. The assessments are a lagging indicator of a rebounding real estate market. Property owners whose assessments exceed fair market value may want to consider appealing if they have evidence (such as factual corrections to the property characteristics or lower values of comparable properties) to support their appeal. 
Metro Atlanta tax assessments jump, giving residents a jolt 
Gina and Michael Schwartz got a nasty surprise when their DeKalb County tax assessment arrived in the mail recently. According to the county assessor’s office, the value of their Brookhaven home rose 10 percent from last year to $318,300, though they’ve made no improvements and don’t think that’s what the market will bear. Now they’re worried about the property tax bill that will come this fall. 
“It’s unfair,” Gina Schwartz complained at a recent meeting that detailed how to appeal assessments. “Why are we paying bigger taxes when nothing changed? That’s a big jump. I don’t want to pay more money.”
The Schwartzes are among tens of thousands of metro Atlanta homeowners learning their tax assessments increased this year, which could mean paying more when property taxes are due.
In four of the five largest metro counties, the total taxable value of residential property is up 7 percent to 11 percent, a review by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found. Some properties are up much more. The exception was Fulton County, where residential values rose just 2.6 percent. The increase for individual properties varies widely.
County appraisers say the assessments reflect a resurgent real estate market that has shaken off the Great Recession. If sales prices rise, so do tax values, they say. Even some professionals who specialize in appealing tax assessments say many taxpayers will have to adjust to new market realities.
Each year, county assessors must determine the value of tens or hundreds of thousands of properties for tax purposes, using real estate sales data and statistical methods. Those values — along with tax rates set by elected officials — determine the size of annual property tax bills.
In the wake of the Great Recession, a series of AJC investigations found typical tax assessments were too high — assessors failed to cut values fast enough to keep up with the plummeting real estate market.
But as the market recovered, the AJC found typical assessments in many areas were too low, reflecting the reality that tax assessments usually lag behind market trends.
Calvin Hicks, DeKalb’s chief appraiser, said his goal is for assessments to match prices that properties would fetch on the open market. He said residents should understand that rising assessments are driven by actual sale prices, not by a need to fatten the county government’s tax base.
“Our primary charge is to value properties and keep those values in line with whatever the market has done,” Hicks said Many individual properties may still be overvalued, and homeowners can appeal their assessments…
Read the rest of the AJC's report here.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Gwinnett uses senior exemptions to woo retirees

An article entitled “10 reasons why you should retire in Gwinnett County” recently appeared in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. It listed the number one reason to retire in Gwinnett as a homestead exemption from school taxes for seniors, saying:
1. Gwinnett has several exemptions for property taxes, including two for seniors, county communications director Joe Sorenson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
  • The Senior School Tax Exemption (L5A) provides seniors ages 65 and older a 100 percent exemption from taxes levied by the Gwinnett County Board of Education on your home and up to one acre of property.
  • The Regular School Tax Exemption (S3) provides seniors ages 62 and older a partial exemption from school taxes. 
Although the article doesn't mention it, Gwinnett's website says there are income restrictions to qualify for their two senior exemptions.

Voters in Decatur will have the chance to decide in November whether there should be an exemption here (similar to Gwinnett's L5A), which would exempt homeowners over the age of 65 for at least the next five years.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

State agencies not immune in property tax lawsuit

Last December, property owners on Sapelo Island sued McIntosh County and the State of Georgia for discrimination and neglect. The lawsuit is based largely on the allegation that the Geechee property owners are paying county property taxes based on soaring assessments without receiving services in exchange. The State of Georgia requested that the state be dropped from the lawsuit, partly on grounds of sovereign immunity. A federal judge recently ruled that most of Georgia's agencies, including the Department of Natural Resources, are not immune from being sued.

The news comes from the Associated Press:
Key Georgia Agencies Not Immune in Slave Descendant Lawsuit
By Russ Bynum
Associated Press SAVANNAH, Ga. — Jun 22, 2016, 5:18 PM ET
A federal judge ruled that key Georgia agencies are not immune from a lawsuit that claims one of the last Gullah-Geechee communities of slave descendants on the Southeast coast is being eroded by discrimination and neglect.
Residents and landowners from the tiny Hogg Hummock community on remote Sapelo Island sued the state and McIntosh County last December in U.S. District Court. The lawsuit says the enclave of about 50 black residents is shrinking rapidly as landowners are pressured to sell because they pay high property taxes yet receive few basic services...
Reachable only by boat from the mainland, the largely undeveloped barrier island about 60 miles south of Savannah has no schools, police, fire department or trash collection.
Attorneys for the state asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit. They argued the Department of Natural Resources, which manages most of Sapelo Island, and other agencies are immune under the 11th Amendment, which grants states broad protection from lawsuits in federal court.
In a ruling last Friday, Judge Lisa Godbey Wood in Brunswick granted immunity to just one agency — the Sapelo Island Heritage Authority — and ordered that it be dropped from the lawsuit. Other defendants including the Department of Natural Resources, Gov. Nathan Deal, McIntosh County, county Sheriff Stephen Jessup and the county Board of Tax Assessors still face civil claims.
However, the judge declared both the sheriff and the tax assessors immune from monetary damages in the case.
Wood is still considering other arguments for dismissal that are not related to immunity.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Walker County shows how tax anticipation notes work

While Decatur sends out tax bills every six months, most tax jurisdictions in Georgia send out bills once a year. For many cities and counties, that means a surge of revenues once a year and decreased cash flow during other months. To deal with this, some local governments rely on tax anticipation notes. This recent article about Walker County illustrate how TANs work in Georgia: 
Walker County borrows to pay bills: Tax anticipation notes commonly used as a budgeting tool
It sounds worse than it is.
The county is borrowing up to $5 million to cover operating expenses. But taking out a tax anticipation loan is something often used by county governments across Georgia as a way to match expenditures with revenue.
“Nearly all counties operate with tax anticipation notes,” Walker County Tax Commissioner Carolyn Walker said. “That is mainly because taxes are collected in the last three months, October through December. That is normal.
Walker said the county’s primary source of revenue is derived from taxing property. Until state law changed a few years ago automobile sales boosted collections. But now, the tax commissioner said no ad valorum tax is collected annually and the county receives just a portion of the 7 percent on the purchase price.
“That’s all,” Walker said. “Except for $1-per-tag collected from license plates.
“This year, by the end of December we had 96 percent of the (property tax) money collected and disbursed.”
During her June 9 public meeting, Commissioner Bebe Heiskell signed documents to obtain a line of credit — up to $5 million of temporary financing —that will be repaid with taxes receipts that are due before year’s end. #The county has assets valued at $107 million and projects collecting about $27 million in taxes for 2016, she said. “We’ll draw it down as needed, and I hope we don’t need it all,” she said. “This is to pay for the county’s business.”
By law, counties cannot borrow more than 75 percent of the total gross amount, including special purpose local option taxes (LOST, SPLOST, ESPLOST), collected in the previous calendar year. The amount borrowed must be repaid in full, with interest, before the end of the calendar year. #Walker County’s recent TAN carries an annual interest of 4.25 percent, payable on the amounts actually borrowed.
Heiskell noted that this year’s loan will be less than half of that required for 2015, the year when Walker County was forced to repay a loan guarantee for operations at the bankrupt Hutcheson hospital.
In Rome, similar tax anticipation notes — slightly more than $6 million worth — were issued last month to cover costs of operating schools. It is something done nearly every year during the summer months and the TANs are repaid when property taxes, due in mid-November, are paid.
Counties use TANs to even out revenue collections during the course of a year. The process is similar to utility companies allowing customers to make equal monthly payments based on historical usage, something that allows predictable budgeting over the course of a year.
“This is operating money for the months when we don’t have a lot of money coming in,” Walker said.
Catoosa County Chief Financial Officer Carl Henson said use of anticipation notes is not at all uncommon.
“It’s just something to use until you collect taxes,” he said.
Henson said that the low period for collecting revenue, from September to December, is often times when county governments will either borrow money or arrange for lines of credit.
“It (TANs) was developed to meet a need,” he said.
Since it is such a regular occurrence, a lot of counties do not put out requests for bids but will just go to their local bank every year obtain these letters of credit that allow them to meet payrolls and pay bills, Henson said.
And there are strict regulations about how such notes can be issued, used and repaid.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Decatur adopts millage rate for 2016

The City Commission approved millage rates for 2016 during its meeting Monday night. The general fund millage rate is decreasing from 9.7 mills in 2015 to 9.3 mills in 2016. The other millage rates for city taxes are the same as they were for the 1st installment property tax billing of 2016.  The rates are shown below:

General fund (operations):  9.3 mills
Capital improvements:  1.0 mills
Downtown Development Authority:  0.38 mills
Bond service:  0.92 mills
Bond (school) service:  1.57 mills

Although the general fund millage rate is decreasing, a tax increase was advertised under the requirements of Georgia law because rising assessments are projected to offset the lower tax rate. The city property tax bill (for a property that didn’t change in value since last year) would decrease by about $40 per $100,000 in assessed value because of the lower rate. For example, the bill for a property assessed at $200,000 ($400,000 fair market value) would decrease by $80 if there were no change in value since last year.

The school millage rate remains to be determined by the school board. Last year the school rate was 18.66 mills.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Georgia rolls out two-factor authentication for online tax services

Taxpayers who electronically file or pay sales taxes, motor fuel taxes, alcohol or tobacco taxes, or withhold state income taxes can now opt-in for a two-factor authentication program offered by the Georgia Department of Revenue (DOR). In addition to user names and passwords, participating business taxpayers will receive an authentication code on their phone or email that they will use as a second factor to log into their Georgia Tax Center (GTC) accounts. Businesses that want to sign-up can log into their GTC profile and adjust their settings to participate.  More details are on DOR's website here.

The DOR is doing this to prevent unauthorized access and stay current with standard security measures. This is an encouraging step given the increase in cyber-security threats targeted against taxpayers and tax agencies.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

DeKalb provides deed alert system

The DeKalb County superior court clerk’s real estate office records all deeds in the county. According to the real estate division’s website, they receive and process over 120,000 documents a year. Given that volume, it is understandable that sometimes the right information may not be recorded, either due to an honest mistake by the person or entity filing the document or the person processing it, or due to something more sinister.

In 2014, the superior court clerk Debra DeBerry launched a property fraud registry alert system. The clerk’s office says, “The system is designed to provide property owners with the ability to register properties and receive notice anytime something is recorded on their property.” WSB-TV reported that it was the first real estate fraud alert system in the state. WSB also reported that DeKalb County has been “at the center” of house stealing schemes in Georgia.

Late last year, The Wall Street Journal reported that deed fraud is on the rise. They reported that “Investors who own several properties are especially vulnerable, prosecutors said, as they are less likely to notice if someone moves into a home they don’t visit regularly.” A booming real estate market can also tempt fraudsters.

DeKalb’s fraud registry seems like a good system for making property owners aware of documents filed involving their property. In my role with property taxes, I have observed several instances where it would have been helpful to receive an alert about a filing on particular properties.

You can sign up for the registry here.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Tax payment grace period ends June 15

The deadline to pay property taxes in Decatur for the 1st installment of 2016 was June 1.  Although the deadline has passed, Decatur offers a grace period during which no penalties or interest apply to late payments.  That grace period ends on Wednesday, June 15.  Unpaid taxes after that date will accrue a 10 percent penalty and 1 percent interest per month.  To check the status of your account or make an online payment, go to  For general information about property taxes in Decatur including a description of other payment options, visit

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

City approves fee increases

The Decatur City Commission has approved an increase in residential sanitation and storm water utility fees for 2016. These fees are added to property tax bills. The typical household will have a $50 increase in October on their 2nd installment bill for 2016.

Residential sanitation fees are for garbage pick-up. The fee adopted earlier this year was $250 per household. The newly approved rate is $275.  The purpose of the increase is to cover curbside glass recycling beginning July 1. 

Storm water utility fees are used to make storm drainage improvements. Properties are assessed a storm water utility fee based on the amount of paved and covered areas on the property. The storm water utility fee has been $75 annually for each single-family residence for over 10 years. Commercial, institutional and multiple-family properties with larger paved areas pay proportionately more in fees. Utility fees are charged to all property owners, including tax-exempt properties. The newly approved fee is $100 per equivalent residential unit.

Most property owners have already paid the original amount of the fees for these services during the 1st installment property tax billing this year and will only owe the difference of the increase during the 2nd installment.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

DeKalb assessment notices to be sent June 3

DeKalb County assesses the values of all properties in the county and its cities. Per state law, counties are required to mail out assessment notices annually. DeKalb will mail out their assessment notices on June 3. The notice will advise you of your property value for 2016. I encourage all property owners to pay extremely close attention to the figures and deadlines on the notice. The 2016 value will be the basis of your DeKalb County property tax bill in the fall and, for Decatur property owners, your 2nd installment tax bill for 2016. 

Here are a few tips for reading your assessment notice. Assuming that the county formats it like previous years, your 100 percent value for 2016 will appear toward the center of the notice. That’s what you want to look at first. If the value doesn’t seem right to you, think about whether you could sell your property for that amount. If you conclude that the assessment does not accurately reflect market value, you may consider appealing. You will see the appeal deadline printed toward the top of the bill, which is 45 days from the date of the notice. (It will probably say July 18.) DeKalb warns, “If you do not file an appeal by this date, your right to file an appeal will be lost. Late appeals will not be processed.” If you don’t receive a paper notice for each of your properties, you should be able to access notices on DeKalb’s property appraisal website.

If you have questions about your assessment or the appeal process, call DeKalb County. Toward the middle of the notice, right above the “grid” area, you should see the names and phone numbers of staff contacts who can assist you with questions about your assessment. Your best bet is to call the staff contacts on your notice because they have the expertise for the location and the classification of your property. (If you’re going in person, note that the assessors have moved out of the their old location in the Callaway Building to their new location at the Maloof Building, 1300 Commerce Drive in Decatur, where the water department used to be.) Please keep in mind that the City of Decatur is unable to answer questions about the values DeKalb determined.

At the bottom of the notice you’ll see estimates for property taxes for the year. However, the estimates are based on last year’s millage rates because this year’s have not been approved yet. You will also see a disclaimer that “City exemptions may not be included in this estimate.” Decatur exemptions definitely will not be included in the estimate on your assessment notice. Decatur maintains its own homestead exemptions and exemption data. DeKalb does not know how Decatur’s exemptions affect city bills for individual homeowners. To get a more accurate projection, pull out your Decatur tax bill from the 2nd installment of 2015. Look at the amount of tax savings due to homestead exemptions. Take that amount and subtract it from the city estimate on the assessment notice for 2016. If you have homestead exemptions with the City of Decatur, your actual bill in the fall of 2016 will be lower than what DeKalb estimates for your city taxes.

Please be aware that the current assessment notice no bearing on your property tax bill in 2015 or the city's 1st installment bill of 2016. Decatur’s 1st installment property tax bills are always based on the prior year’s value (your 2015 value). The assessment notice for 2016 does not change the value on your 1st installment 2016 city bill, and it does not change the amount that was due yesterday, June 1. Decatur’s 2nd installment trues up the total amount due for the year based on your final value and whatever millage rates are approved before the billing in October.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Tax payments due tomorrow

Payments for the 1st installment of Decatur’s 2016 property tax bills are due on or before June 1.  You can view your account/payment status at  Checks can be mailed to:

City of Decatur Lockbox
P.O. Box 945650
Atlanta, GA 30394-5650

We honor postmarks on mailed checks. If you want to pay in person, come to 509 N. McDonough St. We are open today through Friday, 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. Payments can also be made online; however, if you are paying by e-check, please note that it will take several days until your e-check clears and is credited to your account.

In addition to property tax payments, tomorrow is also the payment deadline for businesses in Decatur with commercial sanitation accounts.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Tax commissioner candidates face run-off

Irvin Johnson and Susannah Scott speak at candidate forum

Irvin Johnson won yesterday’s election for DeKalb County tax commissioner by a plurality of 39 percent. Mr. Johnson currently serves as the tax commissioner.  Contract attorney Susannah Scott came in second and will face Mr. Johnson in a run-off election on July 26. Both candidates were running in the special election to fill a vacancy created in the final year of prior commissioner Claudia Lawson’s four-year term and in the Democratic primary to become the sole nominee for the upcoming term, which will start next year. Ms. Scott won 36 percent in the special election and 34 percent in the Democratic primary. Former county commissioner Stan Watson finished third in both contests and will not be listed on run-off ballots.

During the campaign so far, Mr. Johnson has highlighted his experience and accomplishments in the tax commissioner’s office, while Ms. Scott has highlighted her legal background and says she would like to explore expanded hours of operation for the commissioner’s office. Duties of tax commissioners include preparation of digests, diligent collection of taxes, and issuance of liens for delinquent taxes.  The DeKalb County tax commissioner collects property taxes in unincorporated DeKalb and in DeKalb's cities.  The City of Decatur collects its own real and personal property taxes, but relies on DeKalb for services such as digest preparation and motor vehicle tax transfers.

Monday, May 23, 2016

If paying by e-check, please remit by tomorrow

If you are planning to pay your first installment Decatur property tax bill with an electronic check on our website at, I encourage you to make your payment today or tomorrow. Like paper checks, e-checks can take three to five business days to clear the bank. It's not an immediate debit. With Memorial Day coming up, that will further lengthen the amount of time it could take for your e-check to clear. Our formal payment deadline this installment is June 1, 2016. Our website allows for e-check payments with zero convenience fees, and for credit card payments with convenience fees. We also continue to accept payments by mail or in-person up through the payment due date. If you have any issues with the website or the e-check option, please call 404-370-4100.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Decreased millage rate proposed

Decatur’s City Commission is considering a reduction of its property tax millage rate for city operations. Overall tax revenues are expected to increase because of rising property values, but the millage rate would decline. The following explanation is included in the proposed budget for Decatur’s upcoming fiscal year: 

Millage Rates and Potential Increased Homestead Exemptions 

Because of the [projected 7.5 percent] increase in the real estate property digest, it is recommended that the General Fund Millage be reduced from 9.70 mills to 9.30 mills. Lowering the millage will result in a $100 reduction in City of Decatur property taxes for a property valued at $500,000. In addition, as part of the November 8, 2016 election, Decatur voters will be able to consider various homestead exemption increases that will apply to the General Fund, Capital Improvement Fund and the DDA Fund. All approved exemption increases will be reflected in the first installment billing in April, 2017. The 2016-2017 Proposed Budgets were developed assuming that all of the exemptions will be approved. The estimated reduction in general fund real property taxes is $310,000 for fiscal year 2016-2017 and $620,000 for fiscal year 2017-2018. An owner occupied property that qualifies for all of the additional exemptions could see a $135 reduction in the first installment tax billing in early 2017.

Due to capital needs, it is recommended that the Capital Improvement Fund Millage remain at 1 mill and due to resident, business and visitor requests for increased community engagement activities, aesthetics, and business development, it is recommended that the DDA Fund Millage remain at .38 mills. The debt service millage for the 2007 general obligation bond s remains at .92 mills and the 2015 debt service millage for school system capital improvements remain at 1.57 mills. 

A general fund tax rate of 9.3 mills would be the lowest it has been since tax year 2000. If approved, the new rates would take effect July 1, and would be factored into city property tax bills on October 20, 2016.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Group asks voters to vote yes on sales tax

On May 24, ballots countywide and in DeKalb’s cities will include a question on reimposing a one-percent sales tax for educational purposes. A campaign calling itself “SPLOST for Schools” wants the penny sales tax renewed. Brookhaven Patch reports:

DeKalb Group Pushing for Renewed School Tax 

DEKALB COUNTY, GA -- A pro-school tax group is urging voters throughout the community to renew a special local option sales tax for the DeKalb school system.
SPLOST for Schools says the E-SPLOST's renewal is vital for the county. The measure, which will appear on DeKalb ballots on May 24, must pass county-wide in order for DeKalb County School District, City of Decatur Schools, and Atlanta Public Schools located in DeKalb to receive continued funding for capital improvements. Districts use SPLOST monies for new construction, facility improvements, technology upgrades, safety enhancements, and capital equipment.
Dr. Merrill White, president of the Charter School Parent Council, believes that SPLOST funding is necessary to avoid raising property taxes.
“Let DeKalb County visitors, shoppers, and all residents continue to pay the one cent sales tax to keep schools safe, build new schools, build additions to schools, secure new buses, replace outdated equipment, and bring the computer age to all public schools,” she said…
Because City of Decatur and Atlanta schools are impacted by the SPLOST vote, residents of those cities are encouraging their fellow residents, as well as friends throughout DeKalb, to vote YES. Decatur parent Christa Sobon believes there may be some who have been “generally dissatisfied with the direction of DeKalb County and may want to ‘send a message.’ Others may assume it does not affect Decatur. Potentially left in the balance are our teachers and kids.” She believes that DeKalb, Decatur, and Atlanta school districts are all three being led by strong superintendents who have demonstrated integrity and a desire to put students first… 

The AJC has reported that there is not a project list yet for how the revenues will be used, but that public hearings will be held and a detailed list will be adopted later in the year.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Tag renewal kiosk comes to North Decatur Kroger

Tag registration renewal kiosk at North Decatur Kroger

In addition to renewing car tags on Memorial Drive, South DeKalb Mall, on the phone or by mail, DeKalb residents may now renew their tag at the grocery store. A self-service renewal kiosk has been installed at the Kroger on 2875 North Decatur Road, one of less than a dozen kiosk locations in metro-Atlanta.

Tax Commissioner's Irvin Johnson's office says, "Please note that peak office times are usually Mondays and Fridays along with the day after a holiday and daily lunch periods. These are the times you may want to consider or plan to use the Kroger kiosks..."  The North Decatur Kroger is open 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

The green-colored machine is close to the check-out aisles near the main exit.  A video of how the kiosk operates can be viewed at the Georgia Department of Revenue's website here.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

DeKalb tax commissioner candidate forum scheduled

The three candidates for DeKalb County tax commissioner will appear at a forum on May 16. Interim tax commissioner Irvin Johnson, former DeKalb County commissioner Stan Watson, and Susannah Scott, daughter of a previous DeKalb tax commissioner, are running for the office. According to CrossRoadsNews, a sponsor of the forum, the event will take place at 6:30 p.m. at New Life at 3592 Flat Shoals Road. The tax commissioner position needs to be filled because Claudia Lawson retired at the end of 2015. A countywide special election will occur on May 24.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Wrap-up on Georgia tax legislation, 2016

In addition to Decatur’s homestead exemptions (see prior coverage here) and personal property tax exemption for fulfillment centers (see here), Governor Deal signed at least a half dozen other tax-related bills into law last week.

By signing House Bill 1104, the governor authorized a vote in Columbus-Muscogee County on eliminating the property tax freeze that Columbus has had in place since 1982. The freeze had become controversial locally and the mayor there campaigned against the freeze saying that it slowed economic growth.

The governor also signed HB 937 granting a sales tax break for the new Falcons stadium and other projects of "competitive regional significance," Senate Bill 369 authorizing sales tax increases for transportation improvements in Atlanta and Fulton County subject to voter approval, HB 991 waiving penalties and interest for military taxpayers who became delinquent while deployed, HB 987 amending conservation use covenants for ad valorem taxes, HB 769 exempting boats and all-terrain vehicles in dealer inventory from personal property taxes, and HB 960 making several changes to taxes administered by the state including the interest rate on past due state income taxes.