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2020 Assessor’s Report: Real estate on the rise, Marathon joins tax roll

LAPLACE — Historically low interest rates and a booming real estate market contributed to increasing property values across St. John the Baptist Parish in 2020, according to Assessor Lucien Gauff III.

Increasing real estate values was one of the major trends seen in the 2020 Annual Report from the St. John the Baptist Parish Assessor’s Office, a tool meant to help residents understand how their tax dollars are collected and spent.

Many St. John Parish homeowners saw their property tax bills increase significantly as a result of the reassessment, which unfortunately coincided with the hardship of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Assessor is required by the Louisiana Constitution to discover, list and value all property subject to ad valorem taxation on the assessment roll each year. According to Gauff, the Louisiana State Constitution mandates reassessment of all residential and commercial property every four years. The purpose is to ensure uniformity and fairness in the property values in neighborhoods of similar size and value.

“Our real estate values are getting closer to what they should be. The market over the last three to four years has really been on an upswing, especially with the interest rates being at all-time lows. It helps people with their mortgages and notes, so they are capitalizing on purchases,” Gauff said. “There are a lot of sales going on throughout the state, especially through the tri-parish area. Everybody is seeing their market value increase. With 2020 being a reassessment year, you can really see that trend.”

The trends are not expected to turn around any time soon. Interest rates are expected to stay low for the next few years as the economy recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell.

St. John taxpayers who disagree with the newly assessed value of their property may come to the Assessor’s Office for an informal meeting to discuss the matter. However, the taxpayer must be prepared to show evidence of the discrepancy and file an appeal with the St. John Parish Board of Review. Depending on the outcome of the Board’s review, homeowners may further appeal via the Louisiana Tax Commission and the District Courts.

Gauff said there are special services allowing elderly and disabled residents to freeze property tax rates.

“When reassessment hit, we had over 300 people come in after they received the letter and said they were over 65. Some of them were well over 65,” Gauff said. “Even though we have advertised this for years, we are still seeing seniors wait years to come in and reap the benefits they are entitled to.”

In order to qualify to the Age 65+ Freeze, at least one owner of the home must be age 65 or older. The adjusted gross income, combined for all owners, cannot exceed $77,030.36 per year. A driver’s license or birth certificate and a federal tax return are required to activate this freeze.

There are also options to freeze rates for homeowners who are permanently and totally disabled and veteran homeowners with a service-connected disability with a 50 percent or higher disability rate. Veteran homeowners with a 100 percent service-connected disability rating are entitled to an additional homestead exemption.

Adjusted gross income combined for all owners cannot exceed $77,030.36 for each of these categories. Required documents include a disability awards letter and a driver’s license or birth certificate. A federal tax return is also required for the Disabled Veterans Additional Homestead Exemption.

Other 2020 tax revenue trends

Marathon Petroleum Company, the top taxpayer in St. John the Baptist Parish, matured onto the tax roll in 2020 with the expiration of a 10-year Industrial Tax Exemption Program.

St. John the Baptist Parish leaders recently received a $47,596,119.62 check for Marathon Petroleum Company’s 2020 property tax payment.

The funds are being split proportionately with regard to the current millage amounts, according to Gauff.

According to the Assessor’s Office, the total millage tax of more than $97 million is projected to be split between education ($31.19 million), Public services ($2.92 million), General ($27.07 million), Law enforcement ($25.52 million), Levee District ($11.15 million) and Assessment District ($2.35 million).

The $27,068,421.10 going to “General” will fund general alimony, the Juvenile Detention Center, the St. John Parish Library, the Mosquito Abatement District, Recreational Facilities, the Public Health Unit, and Road Lighting District, among other Parish expenses. “Public Services” is divided between Animal Control, the Council on Aging, Court & Jail and general obligation services.

Gauff said the Marathon property taxes will be on the roll moving forward.

“We will reap those benefits from here on out,” Gauff said, adding the funds will incrementally decrease over the years according to a multiplier.

“Still, it’s a lot of money for our area,” he said. “It definitely helps us, is helping and will help us to survive and be a parish that I think is in very good shape. As usual, it depends on how the parish, the sheriff and the school system utilize the funds.”

The East Bank Assessor’s Office is located inside the Percy Hebert Building at 1811 W. Airline Highway in LaPlace. The West Bank Assessor’s Office is located in Room 110 of the St. John Parish Courthouse, 2393 Highway 18 in Edgard.

For more information, visit www.stjohnassessor.org.