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Legislative auditor: Tax Commission to blame for wide assessment disparities

The legislative auditor is out with a report which blasts the Louisiana Tax Commission for failing to follow up on wide discrepancies in tax values set on homes and properties in Louisiana. The report says that some assessors are not re-evaluating properties often enough. But the Orleans Parish assessor says he is in compliance.

The lines are shorter than they were last year, at the Orleans Parish assessor's office and at the satellite office at Lakeview Christian Church. But for people with tax issues, the situation remains serious.

"I'm here to see why my assessment has increased so much over what it was last time," said New Orleans property owner Marie Christoff. She is fighting a 25 percent increase in the assessed value on her Toledano Street double.

In fact, a recent legislative audit report shows wide discrepancies in assessed property values, metro-wide and across the state.

Generally speaking, some discrepancies are unavoidable. But the audit, based on 2011 numbers, shows that 54 percent of Jefferson Parish properties were either above or below a 9-11 percentage point discrepancy range, based on fair market value.  50 percent of Orleans Parish properties fell outside that range, and 37 percent of St. Tammany properties fell outside.

When it comes to Orleans Parish properties, Assessor Errol Williams said, "I think it was a sample of 285 properties, and there's an appeals process for each tax assessor. At that time, my district was half the city."

The report criticizes the Louisiana Tax Commission for not doing enough to equalize property tax rates.

The report calls for the commission to develop a follow-up process to ensure proper assessments. It also calls for the development of a process to ensure that tax change orders are appropriate.

The report repeatedly blames the tax commission for not doing more to ensure fairness. But in its response to the report, commission officials say the auditor ignored Louisiana law.

Commission Chairman Pete Peters said that assessments shall be subject to review first by the parish governing authority, then by the tax commission, and finally by the courts.

"I think the tax commission is right with their position on it," said Williams

Assessor Williams also says that much of the report is based on old data and he says that, with property taxes rising by $114 million in New Orleans last year, things are getting better. "I think we're well on our way to getting it the way people wanted it," said Williams.

Marie Christoff's neighborhood is getting better too, but she still believes a property assessment $20,000 higher than last year is too much.

"I think it's a guessing a game," she said, and she's hoping that an assessment system under attack will give her a break.

The report also says that each property in Louisiana has to be assessed every four years. Assessor Williams says Orleans Parish properties are now being assessed every three years.

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