Reader Robert Bailey wonders why East Baton Rouge Parish's property taxes are sent to a business in Dallas for processing.
"Aren't there local businesses capable of performing this service?" he asks.
First of all, it's worth looking at property taxes themselves. Who collects them? What are they? And, what do they do?
The East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office takes care of collecting the parish's property taxes, though the taxes are based on the assessed value of the property, including the land, as calculated by the Assessor’s Office.
In East Baton Rouge Parish, the assessed value of a residential property is 10% of its perceived value, while commercial buildings are assessed at 15%. Owed taxes are then calculated using the millage rates, or the rate that a property is taxed, set by local entities that receive the property taxes. A mill is one one-thousandth of a dollar, and is equal to $1 of tax for each $1,000 of assessed property value.
Here, according to tax-rates.org, East Baton Rouge has one of the lowest median property tax rates in the country. Louisiana's overall property tax rate is also low, with personal finance website WalletHub ranking the state as having the fifth-lowest real estate property tax rate in the country, outdone only by Nevada, Colorado, Alabama and Hawaii (the highest? New Jersey).
In East Baton Rouge Parish, property taxes are used to fund a wide range of services, including everything from public schools and libraries to law enforcement and fire departments. They're also crucial for funding the organization that, in East Baton Rouge Parish at least, actually collects them: A 6.9-mill tax that has been on the books since 1994 supports about 33% of the sheriff’s operating budget. Up for renewal every 10 years, it was approved by voters last year (with 53% voting yes).
But why, then, are they processed in Texas?
According to sheriff's spokesperson Casey Rayborn Hicks, the reason lies with the Sheriff's Office's bank of choice, Chase.
"Chase, our financial institution, changed processing centers when the Harahan center closed in 2016," Hicks wrote. "The tax payments have been mailed to the Dallas processing center since the closure. The center in Dallas has proven to process the payments in a more efficient and effective manner. Since the financial institution is our fiscal agent, there is no cost to the tax payer."
Sometimes confounding questions turn out to have simple answers.