The St. Tammany Parish Assessor’s Office and Lacombe Heart Hospital have been locked in a two-year dispute over the value of the hospital’s property on La. 434, but a state district judge in Baton Rouge recently signed a judgment siding with the Louisiana Tax Commission in valuing the property at just over $23 million — more than twice the value the hospital claimed.
Judge Timothy Kelley, of the 19th Judicial District Court, ruled in February and signed the judgment March 20.
The decision means that taxes the hospital had paid under protest will be released from an escrow account and made available to tax-recipient bodies, said Sheri Campbell, a spokeswoman for Assessor Louis Fitzmorris. The hospital has authorized the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office, which is the tax collector, to release the money, she said.
The hospital filed appeals of Fitzmorris’ valuation with the St. Tammany Parish Board of Review and then the Louisiana Tax Commission, which heard the matter in April 2014 and decided that the value should be $23.4 million, less than the $26.5 million that the assessor had assigned but well above the figure the hospital wanted.
Both the hospital and the assessor appealed the commission’s decision to the courts.
In a brief filed in the court case, the Louisiana Medical Center and Heart Hospital LLC argued that the facility added a four-story tower in 2008 because it anticipated an influx of patients after Hurricane Katrina. But that never happened, according to the brief, and the highest patient census the 137-bed hospital has had since the storm is 63. The fourth floor of the tower was never finished.
The hospital wanted the assessor to take those factors into account in determining the value of the property. It also said the $21.7 million that Cardiovascular Care Group of Nashville, Tennessee, paid for the hospital in 2011 included things like business personal property, working capital, accounts receivable and cash. It said the land and two buildings accounted for only $10.8 million of the purchase price.
The assessor did not apply depreciation to the hospital or tower in 2011, valuing the entire property at nearly $39 million, the brief said. The hospital paid taxes in 2011 and 2012 based on what the brief called that “grossly inflated’’ valuation.
Fitzmorris met with hospital officials in April 2013 and agreed to reconsider the property’s fair market value.
Campbell said the resulting 32 percent decrease saved the company about $297,000 in property taxes for 2013. However, the hospital’s owners wanted an even larger reduction, she said, and paid their taxes for 2013 and 2014 under protest.
That meant the money could not be distributed to the taxing bodies, a situation that Campbell said put a strain on St. Tammany Fire Protection District No. 3, which serves Lacombe.
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