For more than 30 years, Boudreaux’s, a well-known family owned catering and reception hall in Mid City, benefited from a decades-old mistake made by the Parish Assessor’s Office that allowed the company to pay only a fraction of the property taxes its owners owed.
Business owner Irvin Boudreaux owes $610,221 in property taxes to date, but the parish government doesn’t have an effective mechanism in place to compel him to pay the back taxes.
After The Advocate reported the debt on Boudreaux’s property last year, the Assessor’s Office corrected the mistake, and Boudreaux now will have to pay the correct property taxes going forward.
But Boudreaux and his attorney said it’s unrealistic for him to have to pay back taxes on the property based on an error that someone else made.
“It wasn’t my mistake,” Boudreaux said when reached for comment about the reason he’d allowed the debt to grow for three decades, and then he deferred all further questions to his attorney.
The property is known for hosting and catering wedding receptions and other civic events, including the Baton Rouge Rotary meetings and Mayor-President Kip Holden’s annual State of the Parish addresses.
Bob McAnelly, Boudreaux’s attorney, questioned whether any citizen in Boudreaux’s position would self-report a mistake that would result in them having to pay higher taxes.
“I dare you to tell me that if you had gotten an incorrect assessment lower than what it should be, or anybody else in the parish gets a tax bill that is half or a quarter of what it should be, that you are going to call the assessor,” McAnelly said.
The family has owned the reception hall and catering business since the early 1980s. The business sits across 10 parcels of land that are each assessed at different values.
As a result, each year, Boudreaux’s property tax bill came in the form of 10 separate bills for each of the parcels, which would include the building and the surrounding parcels of land used mostly for parking.
For 30 years, Boudreaux paid taxes on only nine of the 10 parcels: He did not pay taxes on the single most expensive parcel with the most value assessed to it.
The mistake went undetected because when the facility was built more than 50 years ago, a previous assessor mistakenly swapped the values of two of the parcels: The value of the building was assigned to an empty lot with two telephone poles, and that lot’s value was assigned to the parcel with the building on it.
Before the mistake was corrected, the parcel with the two telephone poles had a value 50 times higher than the next most expensive parcel. So for years, Boudreaux paid the taxes for the parcels costing less than $300 a year, including the one that had the building on it.
The taxes on the 10th parcel containing the vacant land, which he didn’t pay, typically exceeded $10,000 in taxes due.
The mistake has protected Boudreaux from facing consequences that under normal circumstances could have resulted in him losing his business.
When residents don’t pay their property taxes, the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office has the authority to auction the delinquent property to bidders interested in acquiring it. The tax sale is the only mechanism in place to compel people to pay property taxes.
If no one bids on the property during an auction, it is given to the East Baton Rouge city-parish government until someone asks to buy it.
The parcel of Boudreaux’s land — containing the vacant lot with the delinquent taxes — has been adjudicated to the city-parish since 1984, flying under the radar until someone tried to purchase the land last year before realizing that the parcel didn’t have the building on it.
Wilson said he has since corrected the assessments so that the value of the building is reflected on the correct parcel. He also went to the Louisiana Tax Commission and had the values retroactively applied for the past three years. He said by state law, that’s as far back as they can correct it.
Octave Anthaume, tax director for the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office, said Boudreaux has paid the three years of correct taxes for the building parcel. In 2010, the parcel’s taxes were $245. In 2014, with the correction, they were $13,546.
But Anthaume said there has been no resolution for the back taxes that were never paid.
McAnelly said several years ago, Boudreaux ran into some financial problems and was unable to pay all of his property taxes.
“When he was able to catch his breath, he paid back his debts and had enough money to redeem all but that one lot,” he said.
He said his client would like to settle his debts with the city and “be a good neighbor,” but he said it would be ridiculous for him to pay more than $600,000 for a worthless piece of property, despite the fact that he got a deal on the rest of his taxes for several years.
“I defy anyone in this world to go down there and write a check for $600,000 for a parcel worth maybe $10,000,” McAnelly said. “I would love to meet that person.”