The tax assessor has finished his quadrennial survey of the parish, and property owners can expect a letter sometime over the summer detailing how much the government calculates their lands, homes and offices are worth.
The assessor’s numbers are the ones the sheriff uses when it comes time to collect local property taxes, so how the assessments shake out determines what people have to pay.
Louisiana assessors set out every four years to determine how much each building and plot of land in their parishes are worth. The assessed value equals ten percent of the market value of all land and residential buildings and 15 percent of the market value of commercial buildings.
However, upon reaching the age of 65, residents’ assessments freeze on the property where they live if they make less than about $71,000 each year.
After accounting for homestead and disability exemptions, the assessed value is used to calculate millages for city-parish services like law enforcement, parks and libraries.
East Baton Rouge has seen a $135 million increase in assessed value since the last reassessment in 2012, said parish assessor Brian Wilson who took office in 2002.
Now, taxing agencies are beginning to consider whether to “roll forward” their millages to collect taxes on the new structures that have been built or land that’s been developed over the past four years, along with the increased revenue from the higher assessed values on existing property. By rolling forward a millage at the same level, a public agency can collect increased revenue.
For example, the Capital Area Transit System’s 10.6-mill property tax generated about $17.3 million last year. Thursday, CATS board members learned they would only need to levy a 10.2-mill tax to collect the same amount of money after accounting for the broader tax base and higher assessments.
If CATS continues to collect 10.6 mills, it will generate an extra $665,000 in revenue for the system. The CATS board plans to hold a public hearing in August to decide how to proceed.
Meanwhile, 20 agencies, including about a dozen fire departments, parish emergency medical services, mosquito abatement and others are preparing to go before the Metro Council on Wednesday to discuss their own property taxes, which range from less than one mill to 11 mills.
Starting on August 26, the assessor’s office will open the new tax rolls so property owners can view their own taxable assets. The records can be viewed at the assessor’s office in the first floor of City Hall or online at data.brla.gov.
Property owners will have until September 29 to contest any assessments they believe to be unfair. If they can’t reach an agreement with the assessor, they have the right to appeal to the Metro Council, then the Louisiana Tax Commission and finally take the matter before a judge, though Wilson said cases rarely, if ever, make it that far.
When calculating value, Wilson said, the assessor’s staff doesn’t go into every house to consider marble versus Formica countertops or compare crown mouldings to arrive at a personalized appraisal.
Rather, they work at a neighborhood level, looking at recent home sales and determining the going rate for similar properties in the area. They use those sale numbers to come up with an average price per square foot that can be applied to the other houses on the block “to make a level playing field,” Wilson said.
For the current reassessment, the parish is using property sale records from July of 2014 through June of 2015.
The state Tax Commission takes a sample of properties each year — varying between land, houses and commercial structures — to check local assessors’ work. In 2015, they examined 200 house assessments and determined that the average assessment equalled ten percent of their appraised value, as is required by law.
The Tax Commission may compel a parish to reassess property if they believe the local authority has done a poor job. Wilson could not recall the Tax Commission ever handing down such an order, and staff at the state agency did not return multiple calls seeking comment.
The assessor must submit the final tax rolls to the Tax Commission in November after the public comment period ends. Any assessment changes after that point will have to go through the state agency, at least until the next reassessment in 2020.
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