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 www.decaturgatax.com.  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 www.decaturgatax.com, 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.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Fayette commissioner critical of DeKalb tax deal

Fayette County commissioner Steve Brown has called a tax deal that lured 1,200 jobs to DeKalb County from Fulton County an “exercise in financial cannibalism” that hurts the metro-area. Cox Automotive will renovate and expand its Lake Hearn Drive headquarters as part of the deal. The Dunwoody Crier has explained the details of the abatement, saying that the “taxes are never completely abated but start at 85 percent and drop ten to twenty percent a year, dropping to one percent by year fifteen. The county, school and city continue to receive taxes, although reduced by the abatements, from the entities throughout the 15-year period.” The terms sound similar to other bond-lease agreements used for economic development in Georgia.

In a letter to the editor of the Fayetteville Citizen, Brown criticized the DeKalb-Cox deal but also acknowledged that the high quality of life in North DeKalb is a key factor in attracting business to DeKalb. Here’s what Brown wrote:
...In Georgia, property tax abatement is the major enticement for attracting job providing companies. Most of the tax abatement is handled out of public view through development authorities, a local vehicle created through the state government. Again, there is some risk as the development authority members making decisions on the tax give-backs have no accountability to the citizenry.
We are now seeing intense competition in metro Atlanta on stealing businesses from each other with financial incentives. Cox Automotive recently received $6 million in tax breaks for moving 1,200 jobs from Fulton County to DeKalb County. This exercise in financial cannibalism is destructive to all of us.
But even with the generous tax abatement offers, some areas are having a difficult time luring business because of quality of life issues. The bottom line is that you must be able to provide a quality place to live or you are out of the running for the high end opportunities.
DeKalb County is attracting high end jobs, primarily, in one specific location: Perimeter Center. The area in the city of Dunwoody is the county’s quality of life enclave and is really what keeps DeKalb County in the hunt...

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Governor OK’s tax exemption for fulfillment centers

Governor Deal has approved a tax exemption for fulfillment centers in Georgia in jurisdictions that offer freeport exemptions.

In addition to real property taxes, businesses normally pay “personal property taxes” on business inventory. Many communities offer a freeport exemption which reduces personal property taxes the same way a homestead exemption reduces real property taxes. House Bill 935 expands the types of inventory eligible for exemption to include inventory at fulfillment centers. 

This expansion of freeport exemptions is part of a larger economic development strategy for Georgia. The Augusta Chronicle reported on the story behind the HB 935 last month:
…U.S. consumers are increasingly shifting toward e-commerce. That’s prompting retailers to develop distribution centers closer to urban areas to shorten delivery times as more companies promise same-day delivery and free shipping, said Curtis Spencer, president of the IMS Worldwide consulting firm…
“It [HB 935] will definitely make us competitive over other states,” said Jannine Miller, director of the Georgia Center of Innovation for Logistics, which is hosting this week’s [Georgia Logistics Summit] conference.
Commissioner of Economic Development Chris Carr said e-commerce is a targeted segment of the logistics industry.
“If you look as far as the eye can see, e-commerce is critically important,” he said. “We want to be a place companies want to locate and give them every reason to be here. That will help us do that.”… 

HB 935 was signed into law on May 3.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Governor signs Decatur homestead exemption bills

Governor Deal signed legislation yesterday that will put five separate questions on November ballots to expand homestead exemptions in Decatur. Deal signed Senate Bill 339, which authorizes a referendum on increasing the basic homestead exemption (known as the GH1) from $20,000 to $25,000. SB 340 allows a vote on increasing the exemption for homeowners over 65 (GH2) from $1,000 to $10,000. SB 342 makes another ballot question that would create a new $15,000 exemption (GH3) for homeowners over 62 with household income under $50,000. SB 341 repeals an old cap on exemption amounts. SB 343 authorizes a vote to create an exemption from school taxes (excluding school bond taxes) for homeowners over 65. Voter approval of these measures would reduce property taxes for eligible homeowners by decreasing the taxable value of their homes. If approved on Nov. 8, 2016, homeowners would become eligible for the homestead exemptions in 2017. The new school exemption would expire in 2021 unless it is renewed.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Lowndes County tax assessors challenge state law

The Supreme Court of Georgia has heard arguments in a case that could affect property valuations of low-income housing units statewide.

The Lowndes County board of tax assessors want to be able to factor in income tax credits when assessing the value of low-income housing properties. In other words, the assessor wants to increase the property assessment because the income tax credits that are tied to the property which increases the potential resale value of such housing units. 

An apartment complex owner that rents to low-income tenants in Valdosta says that the benefits of these tax credits should not be factored under the appraiser's methodology. Attorneys for the owner say that income tax credits are intangible benefits and should not be co-mingled with the assessment of tangible property.

Existing state law prohibits assessors from considering income tax credits in their assessments. The Lowndes County assessors are challenging that law arguing that it violates the state constitutional requirement for uniformity in assessments.  They assert that, similar to rent, income tax breaks make the property more desirable, resulting in a higher fair market value. Assessors are required to consider factors that affect the fair market value. The assessors' attorneys further note that voters rejected a constitutional amendment on the same subject in 2002.

This is a complex case. It will be interesting to see how the Georgia Supreme Court rules.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Court of Appeals: Property taxpayer failed to prove it could sue DeKalb

Raw Properties Inc (RPI) owns commercial property on Snapfinger Road in DeKalb County. In 2010, RPI failed to pay property taxes on one of its properties. DeKalb County sent several delinquent notices to an old Decatur address for RPI, but the property owner had moved to Sparta. RPI notified DeKalb of its new address, but most of the late notices went to the Decatur address. The DeKalb County tax commissioner’s office says it also notified RPI of the delinquency by phone several times over the course of one month in 2011.  The taxes remained unpaid; the property was subsequently auctioned at a county tax sale. RPI was able to redeem the property later but had to pay the 20 percent premium for redemption. RPI sued tax commissioner Claudia Lawson’s office in Raw Properties v. Lawson.

The trial court ruled in favor of DeKalb. During appeal, DeKalb County argued that they shouldn’t have been sued in the first place, because tax commissioners serve as ex officio sheriffs, and different standards apply for sovereign immunity for sheriffs in cases of improper paperwork. The Georgia Court of Appeals sent the case back to the trial level for consideration of the sovereign immunity claim. The trial court found that DeKalb was immune in this case. In February, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decisions, writing that RPI failed to prove that the DeKalb County tax commissioner’s sovereign immunity was waived in this case.

While the original tax sale stands, the court left open the possibility that Raw Properties could still sue for damages through separate methods.

Although the decision isn't friendly to taxpayers, it serves as another reminder that, generally speaking, failure to receive a tax bill does not relieve you of your obligation to pay. Property ownership and its ensuing tax liability are not responsibilities to be taken lightly under Georgia law.