The City-Parish Council on Tuesday shot down a spate of property assessment challenges brought by corporations that Lafayette Assessor Conrad Comeaux called “carpetbaggers” trying to short the parish on tax bills.
The challenges, the bulk of which came from AutoZone, Chick-fil-A and Home Depot, were filed by out-of-state firms specializing in tax assessment appeals and hoping to get a cut of any savings from reduced taxes.
“What’s going on is a tragedy that is occurring not only in Lafayette but across the country,” Comeaux said. “I refer to them as carpetbaggers.”
AutoZone sought to shave more than $200,000 from the assessment of inventory at the auto parts store’s eight locations in Lafayette. Chick-fil-A requested a reduction of about $45,000 in the assessment of its kitchen equipment at the chain restaurant’s three Lafayette stores. And Journeys, a chain shoe store, wanted the assessment of its inventory reduced by about $35,000.
Home Depot sought the largest reduction — total of about $4 million in reduced building value assessments for its three Lafayette sites, which had assessed values ranging from $6 million to $7.5 million.
Home Depot was the only corporation to send a representative to Tuesday’s council meeting.
“I apologize for any of the other carpetbaggers that didn’t show up,” quipped Alex Powell, with Altus Group, a global firm that, among other things, makes money by successfully reducing its clients’ tax bills and was working on behalf of Home Depot.
Powell argued the assessment for the Home Depot buildings are too high in part because the massive facilities Home Depot constructs don’t have much of an afterlife in the real estate market should the store shut down.
“If they are to be vacated, they don’t have a secondary use, so they stay vacant or they sell for low values,” Powell said.
Powell revised Home Depot’s request when he spoke to the council Tuesday, asking for a more modest tax assessment reduction of about $1.5 million.
The council voted unanimously to keep the original assessment in place for Home Depot, as it did for all the other companies.
Toys ‘R’ Us, Ramada Inn Lafayette and the apartment complex University House also filed appeals but withdrew their challenges before Tuesday’s meeting.
Comeaux said firms specializing in tax assessment challenges routinely file appeals with his office, first seeking to settle for a compromised assessment and then usually withdrawing the appeal when they don’t get a settlement.
“This must be a new batch,” Comeaux told council members. “They decided to press forward with the appeal. ... They are just throwing it up against the wall to see what sticks.”