While tax assessors scramble to figure out how much everyone's property is worth post-flood, small government agencies like suburban and rural fire districts are holding their breath that their budgets won't be gutted.
When the governor declared a flood disaster, the assessor in every affected parish got a letter from the Louisiana Tax Commission reminding them they have to reevaluate property in the flooded areas. The assessors' evaluations determine how much government agencies can expect in tax revenue.
However, the state doesn't lay out a specific procedure for the emergency reassessments. Instead of calculating how much a house is worth, assessors are now concerned with finding out how much value has been lost.
"There's no standard out there that determines … how much of a reduction is warranted," said East Baton Rouge Assessor Brian Wilson.
"This is unprecedented."
Tax assessors are preparing to re-examine the value of property in flood-devastated areas of…
Neither he nor Ascension Assessor Mert Smiley have laid out a specific formula for determining taxpayers' new property values. Tuesday, Smiley said his staff has been surveying the damage, and he hopes to publish in a few days a provisional list of the addresses to be reassessed. The assessors said property owners need to keep an eye on the process in case their homes were damaged but not reassessed, or if the new property value gets calculated incorrectly.
In Livingston Parish, Assessor Jeff Taylor is preparing to base the updated assessment on the water height in each house. Buildings that received less than 15 inches will probably get a discount based on one rate, while people above that level will likely get a higher reduction rate since the water will have damaged their electrical system. People who saw more than 4 feet and have to replace additional drywall and cabinets will probably see the highest discount rate of all, Taylor said.
However, his office has not yet determined what those reductions will be. They will be based on the estimated damage price per square foot and multiplied to account for the size of a building, Taylor said.
How long will the reassessment last?
"It's gonna take the time that it takes," Taylor said.
"We're just now getting into data collection. … There's going to be a lot of overtime."
Livingston Parish leaders like fire chiefs are waiting to hear from Taylor to see how much tax revenue they stand to lose, but Taylor said he's still waiting on word from the Federal Emergency Management Agency so he can start assessing the damage.
"I'm extremely concerned," said Brian Drury, chief of the Springfield-area fire district and president of the Livingston Fire Chiefs' Association.
Many local government agencies are completely or mostly reliant on their property tax millages. While a parishwide agency like a sheriff's office or school system may see a drop in property values in some places but not others, in the smaller fire, drainage, school and other hyper-local districts in Livingston Parish, just about every taxpayer flooded.
"I'm trying to stop my spending as much as I can through the end of this year," Drury said.
They'll still perform essential functions, but that new turnout gear is going to have to wait, and anyone who gets trapped in a car after a crash is going to have to rely on 10-to-25 year-old extraction equipment that was scheduled to be replaced.
"That's not gonna happen this year," the chief said.
Like Taylor, the East Baton Rouge and Ascension assessors said they also need FEMA flood data to push on with the reassessments.
None of the three men ventured a guess when asked how much their tax bases may have fallen since the flood.
East Baton Rouge's information technology and mapping professionals late Tuesday released new data comparing the pre-flood tax rolls with their latest stats on properties that flooded.
The city-parish staff looked at assessed property values. The assessed value equals 10 percent of the market value of all land and residential buildings and 15 percent of the market value of commercial buildings.
Wilson has said the city-parish saw a $135 million increase in assessed value between the 2012 and 2016 assessments.
The tax assessor has finished his quadrennial survey of the parish, and property owners can …
The total assessed value of all the inundated properties is estimated at $723 million.
They won't all be total losses, but some may lose half their property value, at least in the short-term, Wilson said. He and the other assessors said they will have to keep updating the rolls in the coming years as people rebuild and values begin to rise again.
Taylor remarked that this large-scale reassessment will also give his staff a chance to check on properties that may not have been updated in the tax rolls for years. Normal assessments rely on nearby property sales, and in a rural area where land doesn't change hands often, the tax roll can become out of date.
"We're fixing those things. … It is not fair for people that pay their fair share," Taylor said.
The new data from the city-parish is also neighborhood-specific, broken down by U.S. Census blocks. Those units vary in size and population from one to another so they can't be directly compared. However, the map shows some general trends. In nearly every flooded block, most of the property value comes from residences. Some public land flooded around the airport and LSU, and commercial property was prevalent in flood-damaged areas such as those around the Mall of Louisiana and Cortana Mall.