St. John assessor to save residents money on property taxes

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 22, 2007


Editor and Publisher

LAPLACE – A drive spearheaded by St. John Assessor Whitney Joseph appears to show promise in saving regional homeowners on possibly big rises in property taxes.

Joseph began to get worried in recent months as he saw more and more 2006 home sales showing large jumps in prices. That will translate into much higher property taxes in the coming assessments for homes in the area.

Joseph believes the post-Katrina era coming out of 2005 and into 2006 made many homes sell far above what the reasonable market would have brought, and he said many of those prices are now coming back to what he considers &#8220normal.”

However the new audit for each parish of the state, which occurs every four years, is about to start at the beginning of 2008, and Joseph said he needed to try right away to get some extra consideration for the problem.

He organized a meeting with the St. John, St. Charles and St. James assessors with the Louisiana Tax Commission leadership, and addressed the entire Tax Commission just last week in a plea for extra consideration on those high sales.

&#8220If we don’t get some kind of help to not use those higher sales prices, you will see homeowner taxes go through the roof when the 2008 assessments are done,” he said. &#8220There were many, many high prices that homes sold for late in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina, and especially in early 2006. If we have to use those prices, it will make the taxes be extremely high.”

Joseph led the charge to Baton Rouge last week and made a plea to the Tax Commission for some consideration of those home sale prices, and he said that he felt like the state officials will give them the help they need during 2007 as many of those prices are evaluated.

&#8220I thought our meeting went very well, and I think we are going to get the help we need,” he said. &#8220These were what I call panic sales after the hurricane. Everyone knows how high some houses sold for, but normally we are required by law to use whatever the home sales prices are in figuring new taxes. But we have asked the Tax Commission to at least give us some leeway to not do that with some of these sales.”

Louisiana Tax Commission Chairperson Elizabeth Guglielmo told L’Observateur this week that there is already a place in the assessment process to consider such a thing, and she believes the assessments will have long leveled out by the end of 2007.

&#8220We are very aware of what affect Katrina had on skewing values of homes,” she said. &#8220But there is a three way approach for assessors to come up with fair market value, and I believe that will allow them to give consideration to those sales.”

Guglielmo said that the state is mandated by the constitution to do a ratio study every four years, and even though Joseph asked for that to be suspended for five years, she said that could not be done.

&#8220They presented a narrow request to us, actually something different than what we expected, but the one thing we couldn’t do is suspend the ratio study,” she explained. &#8220However we are going to look at how other states have handled compliance studies after disasters such as this, and that will also help us in our final determination of the fair market values.”

Joseph noted several homes during the post-Katrina period which backed up his point:

-A home in Live Oak Landing sold for $165,000 in 2004, then sold for $235,000 in 2006 for a 43 percent increase in price.

-A home sold for $95,000 in Riverlands in 2001, then sold for $160,000 in 2006 for a 68 percent price increase.

-A home sold for $97,000 in Carrollwood in 2005, then sold for $155,000 in 2006 for a 60 percent price increase.

&#8220We showed them some of these prices and just made it clear that some people will be getting priced right out of their homes,” Joseph added. &#8220We all know how homeowner insurance rates are already much higher, and that alone is creating a problem for people. But if the taxes go sky high as well, we have people who won’t even be able to live here anymore.”

Joseph said the tax commission officials promised they will come here and discuss some of the higher home sale prices before the study for reassessment begins.

&#8220I feel real good about our meeting. I think we will be able to throw out a lot of those panic sale prices, and that’s all we were asking for,” he said.

Guglielmo added that local residents need to be aware that another way to lower homeowner tax bills is for local millages to be lowered by governmental bodies.

&#8220Millages don’t always have to go up, and when assessments go higher, it is the right of residents to petition their governing bodies to lower millages. That is another way to keep the tax bills down, but it is not within our power to have anything to do about that,” she said.

&#8220Overall I know there will be some tax increases. We had them after the 2004 study, and I’m sure values have increased naturally some in the last four years. But each four year period millages could be rolled back, and it will be up to local residents to seek that,” she said.