GONZALES — State Rep. M.J. “Mert” Smiley Jr., R-St. Amant, a candidate for Ascension Parish tax assessor, said at least 10 percent of properties in the parish are not listed on tax rolls.
Some businesses and affluent neighborhoods are over-assessed and pay too much in property taxes, he added.
“We’ve got to reduce that. We’ve got to make it to where businesses can hire people and function in society without having to pay these high taxes,” he told the newly formed Ascension Parish Tea Party meeting Tuesday in the public library in Gonzales.
Smiley, who had qualified earlier Tuesday to run for parish assessor in the Oct. 22 primary election, has said he decided not to seek re-election to his seat in the state Legislature.
If elected assessor, Smiley said, he would reassess all of the nearly 50,000 parcels in the parish to rectify those problems.
Ascension Parish Assessor Renee Mire Michel disputed Smiley’s claims Wednesday as completely false or out of context and challenged him to provide proof that 10 percent of land is not on the tax rolls.
“That is simply not true,” Michel said.
Smiley, a two-term House member, is challenging Michel, a two-term Democrat. Michel also qualified Tuesday.
Smiley used his Tea Party speech hours after qualifying to stake out campaign positions and go over his record in the state House of Representatives.
Smiley said he was asked to run for assessor by business owners and Pelican Point residents who told him their assessments and property taxes are too high.
Despite recent reductions Michel has promised this year, Smiley said, property owners in the Burnside golf community are overpaying tax bills by 30 percent.
He attributed that to assessed property values pegged to the peak of a “post-Katrina bubble” in 2007.
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 less homestead exemption, as an example.
Without providing addresses or landowners’ names, which he said would not be fair, he also hinted at inequitable assessments in other parts of the parish.
“If you are Mert Smiley’s cousin, don’t expect to get special treatment because you are not going to get it,” he said.
Smiley also claimed he has found other property owners in the parish with three and four homestead exemptions.
Smiley did not provide names and addresses of the property owners to whom he referred.
Assessor Michel asserted that a complete assessment of every property was done by the Assessor’s Office in the 1970s.
The office has kept up with changes since then, she said.
Michel disputed Smiley’s argument that she plays favorites and noted she must report to the Louisiana Tax Commission her assessments of immediate family members’ property.
“We never assess people. We assess property,” Michel said.
She also said that since the 2008 reassessment year, she has twice asked the state Tax Commission, which can overrule assessments by parish assessors, to study home values in Pelican Point and other areas.
In 2009, the study showed the assessed values were within legal tolerances, she said.
The 2010 study, which could only be conducted after enough additional sales had occurred, showed some reduction was due, she said.
Michel said she has been informing homeowners about reduced assessments on their 2011 tax bills.