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M.J. "Mert" Smiley Jr.

GONZALES — People illegally claiming a $75,000 property tax exemption not only on a home in Ascension Parish but also on a home outside the parish or state could be discovered through a program that's going before the School Board on Tuesday and the Parish Council next month.

Next year, with the help of new technology offered by a Covington firm, Assessure Systems, the parish assessor's office should be able to find homeowners claiming a second homestead exemption anywhere in the U.S., said Ascension Parish Assessor M.J. "Mert" Smiley Jr.

A property with a homestead exemption status must, by law, be the homeowner's primary residence. If the parish learns that the homeowner actually lives outside the parish but is claiming homestead exemption on an Ascension Parish property, that person would be notified and get a chance to respond, Smiley said.

If the Ascension Parish homestead exemption doesn't hold up, under inspection, the exemption would be removed and the full amount of property tax due would be levied on the local property, he said.

Based on a sample test that Assessure did on Ascension Parish homestead exemption claims — which turned up several second such claims in other states — the assessor's office anticipates the new program could bring in more than $1 million a year in additional property tax revenue.

"It cleans up our records and provides more revenue" for local taxing bodies," Smiley said.

The Ascension Parish School Board, for example, which receives the lion's share of revenues from property taxes in the parish, could receive an additional $400,000 the first year the new program is put into use, Smiley said.

During that first year, expected to begin in 2019, Assessure Services would receive a one-time fee of approximately one-third of the property tax revenues captured.

After that first year, revenues to local taxing bodies should climb higher, Smiley said.  

The assessor's office is seeking a cooperative agreement with the parish's major taxing bodies — the school board, parish government and the sheriff's office — that would authorize the sheriff to collect the Assessure company's one-time fee as a portion of the property tax bills.   

The school board will be voting on the issue on Tuesday and the Ascension Parish Council will be taking up the matter in January. The Sheriff is in agreement with the program and is waiting on the actions by the other governing bodies, Smiley said.

Mike Sarver, president and chief executive officer of Assessure Systems, which is also working with several other parishes, said, "We've been able to develop a system that's able to acquire data on U.S. home ownership and analyze a large number of records quickly."

The information shows "which people appear to be living in a home different from the home they're claiming the exemption on," he said.

"It's a way to clean the (taxpayer) roll and keep it clean," Sarver said. 

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