The waiting room at the Calcasieu Parish Assessor’s Office was standing room only at 9 a.m. Wednesday — one day after several residents received notice that their property taxes had increased.
Irene Vandever of Lake Charles said her 2012 property tax jumped by 80 percent.
“Just found out why the city of Lake Charles has a projected surplus,” Vandever wrote on Facebook.
Vandever is among hundreds of parish residents and business owners upset about their property taxes.
Calcasieu Parish Assessor Wendy Aguillard said the reassessments are being done by the books and according to the law.
Her office sent postcards to 65,000 taxpayers in July. All homeowners in the parish are subject to reassessment every four years.
“It has been a difficult reassessment this year,” Aguillard said Wednesday. “Our office has been under a lot of scrutiny. Part of my job is to make sure we’re following the law and handling things correctly. It frustrates people, and we try to be understanding. We do sympathize.”
Aguillard said the Assessor’s office only establishes value, but it does not establish the dollars.
“We do half of the equation. We review sales data for the parish and establish value based on that sales data,” she said.
There are several different individual taxing districts, including a school district, fire protection district, sheriff’s department, recreation district, and many others — all have an individual tax millage, Aguillard said. There are about 75 millages in Calcasieu Parish.
“That millage multiplied times the value on our tax roll creates the actual tax dollars that people will have to pay,” Aguillard said. “We must reassess property at a minimum of every four years.”
She said when they analyze the sales data they take into consideration what the properties are selling for on an open market.
“Then, we have to compare that to what it is actually assessed for on the tax roll already,” she said. “Properties that have been under assessed on the tax roll have to be adjusted closer to fair market value. The further the difference the more adjustment there is. We don’t pull numbers out of the air.”
However, the Assessor’s office uses “mass appraisal,” she said, and mistakes are possible because the assessor works with averages.
“We’re doing lots of pieces of property all at one time,” she said. “We take a neighborhood, and we establish what the sales are doing at an average dollar per square foot in that particular neighborhood. We mass apply a dollar per square foot the properties in that neighborhood. These averages can make some homes appraise for higher or lower than they’re actually worth. The more accurate we can get our tax roll the less people will see these large increases.”
She said if any resident or business believes the property has been reassessed in error the owner should contact the Assessor’s office as soon as possible.
“Come talk to us, and we can make those adjustments,” she said. “We’re more than happy to correct any mistakes we may have made. We know there will be a small percentage of error, and we’re glad to correct that for anyone.”
Taxes are due Dec. 31. But Aguillard said if there is a correction for an individual, he or she will receive an amended tax notice with a new due date.
Several residents are angry that taxes are due at the end of the year so close to the holidays. And many voice that there should be a cap on the amount the value can be raised. But Aguillard said all of these concerns can only be changed through legislation.
Sharon Cutrera, chief financial officer for the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office, said if a person cannot pay his taxes the parish government will accept partial payments.
“It is by a case-by-case basis,” Cutrera said. “The cost continues to go up if you’re making partial payments. We have to do due process that we’re notifying everyone.”
For information concerning payment of your taxes, call the CPSO Tax Division at 491-3680. For information concerning assessment changes and homestead, please call the Calcasieu Parish Tax Assessor’s Office at 721-3000.
The deadline to make payment on the 2012 tax notices without paying any interest or penalty is Dec. 31, 2012. Any payments received after that day will be charged 1 percent interest per month and is subject to additional costs mandated by the Louisiana Revised Statues. Taxpayers will be able to pay their 2012 property taxes online on the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office website at www.cpso.com by using a Visa, MasterCard or Discover credit card. Taxpayers may also view and print their bill from the website.
For those not wanting to pay their taxes online, they may pay them in person at 1011 Lakeshore Drive, Suite 100, in Lake Charles; 1525 Cypress St. in Sulphur. Payments can also be mailed to Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Tax Division, P.O. Box 1450, Lake Charles, LA 70602. To find out how much is due before mailing your payment, go to www.cpso.com or call the tax office at 491-3680.
The Tax Office will be closed for the Thanksgiving holidays on Thursday and Friday and also for the Christmas holidays on Dec. 24 and Dec. 25.