Editorial: Don't blame Aguillard, fault lies on those who came before

Property taxes are always a

controversial topic this time of year for a trio of reasons. The taxes

have to be paid by Dec.

31 to avoid interest penalties. The tax bill may be much higher

than expected because of an assessment increase. And the holiday

season is already expensive for many families.

The office of Wendy Aguillard, Calcasieu Parish tax assessor, knows about the controversy first-hand. Her office has been

under fire this year because many property owners have seen their tax bills increase. Some property taxes have more than

doubled. And state law is a major part of the problem.

The law says parish tax assessors have the responsibility of assessing property based on a percentage of its market value.

Their work is overseen by the Louisiana Tax Commission. It’s mission is “to achieve fair, accurate and uniform ad valorem

taxation through effective oversight of assessors...”

The requirements are specific. The

percentage of fair market value on property is supposed to be uniform

throughout the state

where the same class of property is concerned. Unfortunately, some

assessors around the state for many years haven’t followed

the law.

New Orleans is a case in point. It had seven city assessors, but the Legislature has created one assessor to replace those

seven. And here is one of the reasons why the law had to be changed, according to The Times-Picayune:

“The single-assessor system replaced a regime that lasted nearly 130 years in which seven different assessors evaluated what

properties were worth, leading to wildly different valuations and inequitable tax burdens,” the newspaper said in August.

The new parish-wide assessor in New

Orleans reassessed property in the city in an effort to equalize

property assessments.

As a result, 40,000 property owners (25 percent of the 160,000

city property owners) saw their taxes go up. The New Orleans

City Council decided to keep its millage rates, and that will mean

a revenue increase for the city of nearly $10 million.

A similar situation occurred in

Calcasieu Parish this year after Aguillard took office. No one has said

so, but it appears

Aguillard’s job has been especially challenging because her

predecessors were not as diligent about ensuring property values

were equalized. And now she is trying to fix the problem. She said

in November that reassessments are being done by the books

and according to state law.

Property has to be reassessed every

four years, but that doesn’t always mean property taxes have to go up.

State law says

taxing bodies have to roll tax millages up or down so that the tax

that is collected is equal to the previous year’s taxes.

However, government agencies have an alternative. They can keep

tax millages at current levels after a public hearing and

a two-thirds vote, and that means more revenues for the taxing

bodies.

The Calcasieu Parish Police Jury has rolled its taxes back in order to keep revenues equal to the previous year. Some other

parish agencies decided to keep their current millages.

Calcasieu property owners received

postcards in July telling them the amount of their assessment. The

assessment rolls are

opened from Aug. 1 through Sept. 15 for public inspection. That is

the time property owners should use to discuss their assessment

with the assessor’s office. Waiting for the tax bill to arrive is

too late.

Property owners can appeal to the Police Jury that sits as a Board of Review. This year, the jury heard only seven or eight

appeals at its Sept. 20 meeting, and they were all commercial property owners. Those who don’t get satisfaction there can

appeal to the Louisiana Tax Commission.

The Police Jury is charged with

providing space for other parish offices, but it only has direct

supervision over the registrar

of voters. It has no control over the operations of district

judges, the district attorney, the sheriff, tax assessor, clerk

of court, coroner or School Board.

If all Louisiana tax assessors had been obeying the law, the tax controversies here and in other parishes could have been

avoided. Reassessments would have been done gradually and wouldn’t have created heavy burdens for taxpayers at one time.

• • •

This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Ken Stickney,

Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.