Brian Wilson's challenger in East Baton Rouge Parish assessor's race promises that if elected he would create a more "user-friendly experience" for taxpayers seeking information on their property assessments by modernizing the office's systems and protocols.
But Wilson says he doesn't know why his opponent, Jonathan Holloway, believes the office needs to be upgraded since the office already has many of the technological advances.
"We have purchased software that two-thirds of the assessors across the state use," said Wilson, a Republican.
That software includes an online digital mapping system that allows anyone to search on the Assessor Office's website for properties and/or lots to check ownership, dimensions and property values.
"We also have two branch offices in the parish to better serve the public," said Wilson, who has served as assessor for 17 years. "I want to always continue to pursue the latest technology that becomes available while keeping the office on solid financial ground."
Wilson said the biggest challenge during his tenure revolved around the 2016 floods when he and his team took on the task of tagging all the properties that flooded — which he said involved a coordinated effort between the city-parish and federal agencies. And to give relief to those taxpayers who were struggling to rebuild in the years that followed, Wilson said, his office reduced assessments for more than 40,000 properties.
It's a question most people wonder but are too polite to ask: How much are your neighbors paying in property taxes, and how much money are the…
"Everybody who flooded got a 35 percent reduction on their assessments for 2016," he said.
People who still weren't in their homes or businesses got reductions in 2017 and 2018 as well, he added.
"Anytime the Governor declares a state of emergency we have the opportunity to go in and give taxpayers some relief," Wilson said. "I flooded myself, so I understood the need."
Wilson, who is seeking his fifth term, said he will continue his fair approach in assessing property values for taxpayers and maintain his office's mantra of being accessible to everyone in the parish.
His Democratic opponent, an attorney who once served as the general counsel for the state's Licensing Board for Contractors, said that in addition to implementing technological change in the Assessor's Office, he would create a committee tasked with creating an "updated blockchain, smart industry, data mining network."
Holloway said technology and the modernization of office protocols will ensure assessments are done right the first time, data mining is a key element to predict future property valuations, and his "smart industry" approach would help centralize operations at the Assessor's Office.
That committee would be made up of representatives from the real estate sector, title attorneys/agents, surveyors, and commercial and residential property owners from the rural and urban areas of the city-parish.
"I will assemble a transition team of professionals to prepare an overview of the Assessor's Office with the aim and trajectory toward modernization," Holloway said, without identifying any specific areas where he felt things were currently lacking. "I want all stakeholders and citizens to access this office how it best fits into their lives and that requires a bold new attitude towards the use of technology and accessing of information.
"I want to take the direction of the East Baton Rouge Assessor's Office into an innovative 21st Century digital platform," he said.
Holloway first ran for public office in 2011 as a candidate for the newly created state House District 101 seat, which Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, secured.
"I wasn't successful in that endeavor; however, I learned so much and gained a wealth of knowledge," Holloway said.
Early voting for the Oct. 12 election begins Sept. 28 and ends Oct. 5, excluding Sept. 29, a Sunday.