FOX 8 Defenders: Tax bill spiked thousands of dollars

New Orleans, La. -- Every four years, parish assessors revisit properties and revaluate them.  For an Uptown homeowner, it was sticker shock when she opened her 2012 property tax bill, and it turns out it was thousands of dollars more than she had ever paid before.

Eleanor Brady has lived in the Black Pearl neighborhood along the river Uptown for years, and her real estate tax bill has been relatively low compared to what some homeowners fork out each year.  That's because she meets the state's age and income freeze requirements.

In 2009, Brad's tax bill was $85.40.  It went up to $96.87 in 2010, and last year, she paid $108.  But when Brady opened her tax bill for this year, she said she almost passed out.  "Three-thousand, eight hundred and something dollars.. yeah almost$4,000.. Where did they arrive at this figure you know?" asked Brady.  She said unfortunately she hasn't been able to make any exterior improvements to her home, and when she tried to get answers, she said she couldn't get help from the Orleans Parish Assessor's Office.

That's when she turned to the FOX 8 Defenders, and it turns out, a couple of things led to the bill's drastic increase.  Orleans Assessor Erroll Williams says the Black Pearl area has become a hot neighborhood for renovations.  "Because its closest to the river, we've begin to see sales in the $300,000 to $500,000 range for houses in that neighborhood," he said.

Like some of the homes on her block, Brady's total assessment shot up from $77,000 to $328,000, but Williams said that was an over-assessment.  "Our consultant who we hired had a data entry error when it came down to entering the square footage for this particular property so we went back and re-measured and realized that number should be in the $220,000 range," said Williams.

Also, the age and income freeze that had been applied to Brady's tax bill in previous years, wasn't used this time.  Taxpayers who are 65 or older and who make $67,000 a year or less are eligible.  At that point, your assessment is frozen.  It doesn't change over the rest of your life at that property as long as you stay there and don't increase the home's value more than 25 percent.

"We looked at all the freeze applications that we had, and for many districts there was no documentation to support those freeze applications," said Williams.  So in trying to account for exemptions, Williams said his office canceled all freezes that didn't have documents to support them, and Ms. Brady fell in that group.  "There was documentation, but it had no income on it.  She had the age, but she didn't fill out the income on it, but when we went back to the subsequent year we found that the income never got close," said Williams.

He said in 2008, a previous assessor raised the value of Brady's home, but then for unknown reasons changed it back to $77,000.  Williams doesn't agree with the fact that the home's value never rose above the 2001 purchase price, but says Eleanor Brady locked in at $77,0000, and for the rest of her life at the Cherokee St. address, her assessment is frozen.  Her 2012 tax bill was corrected, and her payment is $107.

For more information on the age and income freeze call the Louisiana Tax Commission.

If you have a consumer concern, call our FOX 8 Defenders staffed with volunteers from the National Council of Jewish Women at 1-877-670-6397.