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Tax commission agrees to make changes after audit

Last Modified: Thursday, November 21, 2013 7:56 PM

BATON ROUGE (AP) — The Louisiana Tax Commission reversed course Thursday, agreeing to follow audit recommendations that the board rework its oversight of parish tax assessors to ensure homeowners are charged correct property taxes.

A July audit from the Louisiana Legislative Auditor's Office said the commission's oversight of property taxes was inadequate. It said the commission regularly approved changes that parish assessors made to property tax bills without checking the accuracy of those changes.

"We're going to make every effort we can to address all those issues," Tax Commission Chairman Pete Peters told lawmakers on the audit review committee. "Hopefully, we'll have a better system as we move forward."

Peters' comments — and a new written response to the audit also released Thursday — were a sharp turnaround from previous statements made by staff members of the commission.

In a first response to the audit, the commission rejected nearly all the suggestions, disagreed with the review and said the auditors don't understand property tax law or the commission's role.

Lawmakers bristled at the response in a September meeting of the Legislative Audit Advisory Council and pressed the commission to make changes. Peters didn't appear at that hearing, an absence that also prompted complaints.

The commission is a five-member panel, with all commissioners appointed by Gov. Bobby Jindal, who also received criticism for his appointments after the audit came out. The commission oversees a $3.8 million budget and a staff of 36 people.

The audit said the tax commission approved more than $118 million in reductions to assessed property values for 20,822 business and residential properties and $10 million in increases for 3,374 properties from 2010 through 2012 without verifying the new assessments.

Auditors also said the tax commission didn't make sure the local assessors reappraise properties every four years as required under the state constitution, and didn't review what caused similar homes to carry sharply different tax bills.

The auditor's office suggested a series of changes to the process for overseeing the work of parish assessors, including more intensive reviews and follow-ups. Peters agreed to each proposal.

"I think the commission is doing a good job, and we will do better with the improvements that have been suggested to us and that we are following," said Kay Katz, a tax commissioner and former state lawmaker.

The shift from the commission prompted praise, but lawmakers also said they want future updates about the progress to ensure the changes were effective.

"I hope next year we're continuing to sing 'Kumbaya,'" said Rep. Hunter Greene, R-Baton Rouge, chairman of the audit advisory council.

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