GONZALES — Ascension Parish Assessor M.J. “Mert” Smiley Jr. has paid back to local governments and municipalities $89,340 they had contributed toward the cost of a data-gathering effort that has boosted assessed values on the tax rolls and property tax revenues in government coffers.
Smiley said Monday that the refunded money is part of what wasn’t spent on the $400,000 aerial imagery project. He said a $150,000 grant from the U.S. Delta Regional Authority helped cover some of those costs.
The local governments and municipalities originally contributed a combined $375,000 in 2013.
Smiley said checks to the parish School Board and parish Sheriff’s Office, the two government entities that contributed the most initially and received largest refunds, were hand-delivered to School Superintendent Patrice Pujol and Sheriff Jeff Wiley recently.
“They were very thankful of the work that we did, and they were very supportive that we actually returned some money to them because that doesn’t happen in government too often,” said Smiley, a Republican and former two-term state legislator.
In 2013, Smiley had asked the jurisdictions that levy property taxes in Ascension Parish to contribute to the data project on a basis proportional to the amount of tax they levy.
Smiley’s office had hired the firm Pictometry to fly over the parish and photograph properties in the parish and then hired another company, Apex, which used those images to sketch every improvement in the parish.
Through that work, digging in parish permit records and other efforts, the Assessor’s Office found that 14 percent to 17 percent of existing properties were not on the rolls, Smiley said.
Taxpayers have started to see the results of those efforts this year as tax bills have gone out.
The School Board, which collects about 60 percent of the property tax from a parish tax bill, contributed the most to the data-gathering project at $235,000. It received the largest refund check at $52,885, a spreadsheet from the Assessor’s Office says.
The Sheriff’s Office, which contributed $50,000, received the next-largest refund of $11,566.
Pujol said in a statement that the School Board supports Smiley’s efforts to improve upon the needs in his office to do its job effectively and efficiently.
“The return of the unused funds shows the collaborative efforts between governing bodies and the transparency of the process,” Pujol said.
As one measure of return on investment, the data project boosted revenue to the School Board and Sheriff’s Office tax rolls by nearly $10.4 million and $2.4 million, respectively, on a recurring annual basis, the Assessor’s Office spreadsheet says. Those increases were calculated by comparing revenues generated from the 2012 tax rolls with those from the 2014 tax rolls.
Parish government, which contributed $36,000 initially, received a $9,636 refund that must be divided among dedicated funds for the parish health unit, mental health services, drainage and the undedicated parish general fund.
The data project boosted revenues to those parish government funds by $2.9 million annually.
The parish library received a $6,429 refund on an original contribution of $27,000, while the parish Council on Aging, various levee districts, Gonzales, Donaldsonville and Sorrento received smaller refunds from smaller initial contributions.
Ascension Parish President Tommy Martinez said he was happy to have the refund but noted that Smiley had to return any unspent funds by law.
“I think that’s a good thing that he pays what he owes,” Martinez said.
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