The East Baton Rouge Metro Council on Wednesday upheld the property assessment for ExxonMobil's Baton Rouge facilities, despite an appeal from the city-parish parks department claiming the properties were not correctly assessed and would cost local agencies nearly $5 million in lost tax revenue.
The Metro Council's decision played out with little discussion.
"We normally uphold assessments of the assessor," Pro Tem Scott Wilson said during the item's introduction before charging forward with Wednesday's agenda without an opposition from the rest of the council.
Earlier in the day, ExxonMobil won another battle, this one involving its effort to get a property tax break for a potential expansion of its polyolefins plant. The sheriff's office on Wednesday gave its approval for the conglomerate's Industrial Tax Exemption Program request. The Metro Council will consider the tax break on that project — which is separate from BREC's appeal — in October.
ExxonMobil's Baton Rouge facilities are being under-assessed by several hundred million dollars, the parish's parks and recreation system clai…
On the assessment issue, BREC's appeal requested that roughly $338 million be added to the collective fair market value of Exxon's refinery, chemical plant, plastics plant and polyolefins plant — or that the parish's assessor's office further clarify how it arrived at the Baton Rouge facility's 2018 property assessment.
In an emailed response following Wednesday's decision to uphold the assessment, BREC Superintendent Carolyn McKnight said, "We respect their decision and are considering all of our options."
BREC can appeal the Metro Council's decision to the Louisiana Tax Commission and then to the court system after that, which Councilman Matt Watson said are the proper channels to challenge the assessments.
"We did exactly what the council was supposed to do," Watson said during an interview after the meeting.
In its nine-page appeal filed with the Metro Council last week, BREC said if the property assessment is left as is, East Baton Rouge taxing authorities stand to lose nearly $5 million next year.
Parish Tax Assessor Brian Wilson, who is the brother of Metro Councilman Scott Wilson, said previously he's "not sure whether those numbers are correct," but added he would continue to look at the assessments.
The community organizing group Together Baton Rouge and a coalition of educators first raised questions about the assessed value of ExxonMobil's properties earlier this month. The group wrote in a letter to the assessor that ExxonMobil made several hundred million dollars worth of capital additions last year, and should have seen increased property value from expiring exemptions granted 11 years ago.
Over the past 20 years, Exxon Mobil has been exempted from paying almost $700 million in property taxes that would have otherwise helped pay f…
But Brian Wilson's assessment saw ExxonMobil's property value drop from $1.45 billion in 2017 to $1.39 billion in 2018 for its four Baton Rouge facilities.
Meanwhile, ExxonMobil is also seeking a new Industrial Tax Exemption on a potential expansion of its polyolefins plant, a project the oil and gas giant said is worth north of half a billion dollars.
On Wednesday, Sheriff Sid Gautreaux gave his approval for the tax break, citing an expected $3.6 million his office will receive over 20 years with the ITEP in place. He also said the new jobs ExxonMobil says it will create mean more potential homebuyers and an even wider property tax base.
"The approval of the Exxon ITEP exemption will benefit the entire community," Gautreaux's office said in a statement.
Gautreaux joins the East Baton Rouge School Board, which voted last week to approve the tax break. Local officials now have a vote on whether to approve or reject ITEP applications from manufacturers following an executive order in 2016 from Gov. John Bel Edwards that reined in the program. New rules added this year made the ITEP a 10-year program that offers an 80 percent tax break on new capital additions.
BREC spokeswoman Cheryl Michelet in email before Wednesday night's meeting stressed the agency's appeal of ExxonMobil's tax assessment is separate from the ITEP application for ExxonMobil's polyolefins expansion. She also pushed back against criticism of the department's actions.
"As our objective is to simply receive further clarification on the development of the property tax rolls by the tax assessor to ensure we are collecting the proper tax revenue, we are a bit shocked at the response we have received for exercising the appeal right provided by law," Michelet said.
"If the rolls are accurate, we would like to see how they are calculated and will move on knowing that we are receiving the proper tax revenue," she wrote. "If the rolls need to be revised resulting in additional tax revenue for BREC and other local taxing agencies, then we will look forward to receiving the additional revenue to help us better serve the citizens of the parish with amenities such as a Reimagined Greenwood Park and Baton Rouge Zoo."