Overcoming Hurdles for Fair Taxation

October 14, 2021 by Meredith Trimble

Overcoming Hurdles for Fair Taxation

The existence of a pandemic didn’t stop other challenges from surfacing for governments. Hurdles and deadlines common to public sector work continued unabated. In DeKalb County, Georgia, the Tax Commissioner’s Office had only weeks before the tax digest deadline to adjust and collect taxes for a newly formed city.

Addressing the last-minute tax change and its impact to residents required a new kind of ingenuity. “We were able to identify the best method to implement the change, and it was something our team had never done before,” said David Butler, technical support analyst for the Tax Commissioner’s Office. “We never would have thought of doing it, and we weren’t sure it could even be done.”

The idea was to remove the existing assessment freeze and apply the millage reduction to current assessed values. This posed its own challenge. In DeKalb County, the District Millage Equivalent (DME) is a millage deduction based on the frozen assessed value. The DME formula relies on the existence of this frozen value in the system in order to lower the property tax. If staff removed the frozen value, the software would not calculate a millage reduction.

“We considered changing the entire formula,” explained Butler, “but that would have required more testing than could be allowed. We also considered writing a new formula just for the [new] city, but we came into the same issue with testing. How do we implement a change that will affect 10,068 taxpayers with minimal testing one day before the due date?”

Staff collaborated with Tyler support teams and its own IT department to deploy a new script to overwrite the frozen values for the city with the current assessed values. With just a few hours of testing, it proved a successful short-term fix that would allow the office to submit the digest on time and plan for future work on a more permanent solution.

DeKalb passed the state digest and collected taxes without relying on a temporary order to accommodate the new city. What’s more, the county did not have to charge the city for separate billing, which was a benefit to city leaders collecting taxes for the first time. More than 10,000 of the city’s parcels received tax savings, and the new city billed nearly two million dollars with no issues.

“The fact that all of this happened with an all-new digest team, and a pandemic changing the way we all operate … we truly felt this was a huge win for the county team and the city,” noted Christy Huiel, director of property tax for the county. It was definitely a critical project powered by a flexible, trusting relationship between county teams and Tyler IT and Support staff.

In a year where challenges were all too frequent, the tax commissioner’s office found a way to overcome obstacles, collaborate, and deliver fair and equitable taxation with confidence. The office earned a 2021 Tyler Excellence Award for its organizational responsiveness and business value.

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