In world of taxes, assessor says not all is equal

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 4, 2012

This is the first in a series of articles examining property taxes in the River Parishes.



LAPLACE – Whether looking at the individual taxpayer or the business taxpayer, St. John Assessor Whitney Joseph wants only one thing.

“Fairness. We need to have laws that treat everyone the same way,” Joseph said during a recent sit down in his office. “Big corporations and smaller businesses need to be on equal footing.”

Joseph seems most upset with the fact there are different laws affecting large and small businesses, as well as similar inequities that affect individuals when they are paying taxes on their home.

“Personally, I think the most unfair thing in the world is the homestead exemption,” Joseph said. “Everyone should pay something. The system is not fair when it says that you don’t have to pay any taxes on your home just because it is valued at less than $75,000.”

Joseph even referenced his own family as getting what he thought was an unfair advantage when he was in school.

“My mom sent me and my brother to public school, but we didn’t pay a cent of taxes,” he said. “That wasn’t fair. Everyone should pay something, even if you are 65 or older.”

Joseph was alluding to the Louisiana homestead exemption, which says if your home is valued at $75,000 or less, you don’t pay any taxes. Taxes only begin from that $75,000 range. Additionally, there is a senior citizen law, which freezes taxes for residents older than 65, if earnings are less than $66,000 a year.

“I just think we need to make the tax system fair for everyone,” Joseph said. “We all should pay something to pay our share for schools and any government services.”

Joseph also discussed some of the larger tax breaks given to big industry. He referenced Marathon’s Garyville refinery, which received a 10-year tax exemption when it came to the parish.

“Small business don’t get the same advantages,” he said. “Small businesses are taxed right away. It takes at least five years for any business to make money. I’ve seen hundreds of small businesses go under since I’ve been here as assessor, and those small businesses could use some help with their taxes in the early years when they are trying to get established.”

Joseph said the general public should be encouraged more often to get involved with government and make sure the parish leaders know what the people want before they make decisions.

“It’s a misconception that we just set our own millages for everything,” he said. “But it’s you, the voters, who determine what millages will be. You vote on them, and you need to get involved in government before they change millages. You need to make public officials accountable because once something passes, you have no voice to speak out anymore.”

Joseph also addressed a problem he has been faced with in the past regarding a rapidly increasing tax rate on homes in the parish. He said home prices are going up too fast in certain neighborhoods, and he is worried some residents may not be able to afford tax bills when home values are reassessed.

“Home sales are down in 2011, but prices remain high,” he said. “I think it is asking too much for us to reassess homes every four years. We should wait for the housing market to settle more.”