Ascension Parish Assessor Renee Mire Michel said Friday she expected a tough political campaign from challenger M.J. “Mert” Smiley Jr., but she didn’t expect that he would “deliberately make up” facts about her office’s handling of property assessments.
Michel, in a news release issued on Friday, responded to Smiley’s criticism about her performance as parish tax assessor during a speech he delivered Tuesday to members of the Ascension Parish Tea Party.
Smiley claimed that at least 10 percent of properties in the parish are not listed on tax rolls and he has found other property owners in the parish with three or four homestead exemptions.
“I expected a tough political campaign from a politician like Mert Smiley,” Michel said.
“I’m ready for that. What I did not expect was for Mr. Smiley to deliberately make up these so-called facts in his attempt to hide the fact that he has no experience in appraisal methods and techniques and obviously has no factual knowledge of how an assessor’s office works.”
Smiley, of St. Amant, did not respond to a request for an interview when asked Friday for a response to Michel’s comments.
Smiley, a Republican two-term member of the Louisiana House of Representatives, decided not to seek re-election to the Legislature this fall, instead choosing to challenge Michel, a two-term Democrat.
Both qualified on Tuesday for the Oct. 22 primary election for parish assessor.
In denying Smiley’s accusations, Michel said her office uses a geographic information system, or GIS, mapping program that keeps track of land in the parish.
“I’m not surprised that Mr. Smiley would claim there are 5,000 un-assessed properties in Ascension because he has no experience in appraisal or assessment of properties,” Michel said.
Michel said in a telephone interview that she decided to issue a news release because, after Smiley’s accusations were published Thursday in The Advocate, “everywhere I go people are questioning me about the 5,000” parcels of land Smiley says are not being assessed.
Michel said in a rare instance, there may be “that missing trailer” that is not assessed one year, but that her office has “been very diligent that everything is identified.”
Michel said she worked in the Assessor’s Office for more than 20 years before winning election to the office.
“For Mr. Smiley to claim that there are 5,000 properties not on these certified rolls is just an opinion of someone who is uninformed about assessment procedures,” Michel added.
Michel challenged Smiley to provide a list of the 5,000 properties to which he refers and also challenged him to reveal the names of the homeowners he says he has found who have three or four homestead exemptions.
Michel said by law, a person may claim only one homestead exemption, and, “if Mr. Smiley knows of anyone who has three or four, he is obligated to report this matter to the Assessor’s Office.”
Michel also disputed assertions she had not addressed claims by Pelican Point homeowners who questioned their assessments.
Assessments reflect a percentage of a property’s market value and are used to calculate property owners’ ad valorem tax bills.
A homeowner’s house and land are assessed at 10 percent of market value minus the homestead exemption, for example.
Michel said she instituted a reassessment of the Pelican Point area due to the housing value collapse and has reduced assessments during the past year for many residents throughout the parish who became enmeshed in the housing price bubble that led to inflated real estate values.
Smiley had said Tuesday that despite assessment reductions Michel has promised this year, property owners in the Burnside golf community were overpaying tax bills by 30 percent.