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Local tax assessors may be in hot water because of state audit - KTBS.com - Shreveport, LA News, Weather and Sports

Local tax assessors may be in hot water because of state audit

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When property values go up, property owners are happy. They're less happy when taxes on that property also rise. The job of assessing values for tax purposes therefore can be controversial. Now an audit of this tax system has found many parish assessors simply failing to reassess property and the state watchdog in charge of policing assessors rolling over and playing dead.  

As demanded by Louisiana's constitution, every property gets its value assessed every four years by the parish tax assessor. This appraisal sets a tax rate for the property owners. The Louisiana Tax Commission makes sure parish assessors are doing their jobs correctly.

However, the recent audit of the tax commission found  this board failing to make sure assessors were conducting 4-year reassessments. Nor did the commission check the accuracy of the assessments submitted by each parish. In fact, the commission approved $118 million in property value decreases but only $10 million dollars in increases.

The governor-appointed commission didn't follow up on properties with values assessed below or above the mandated  fair-market value range. Audits on Caddo and Bossier Parishes found several properties well out of range, meaning owners of similar properties could be paying different tax amounts. Both parish assessors disagree with the audit's findings.

"This is a house, that I have at $35,000, and they say is worth $70,000," Bobby Edminston, Bossier's assessor, said. He says auditors assessed properties solely on neighborhood sales averages based on square footage value. That's not fair to him.

"Let's say the average is $50 a square foot, " Edminston said. "Well, they're applying that $50 square foot on that first house I showed you, which may worth on $25 a square foot. The last house I showed you may be worth $75 a square foot." Edminston says the audit is missing important information like the ages of homes in the area, information which he uses.

Caddo and Bossier Parishes' assessors basically use the same methods to reach  an assessment. They check not only sales averages but compare similar property types in an area. Then, they factor in a home's age. They also count original construction details, like cosmetic additions and square footage.

"When the house is originally constructed, we do go through the house," Edminston said. "We document all the information that's pertinent to it. What type of fixtures it has. What type of bathrooms it has. How many bedrooms its got."

This means assessors can often use outdated information because there aren't regular on-site inspections, conditions that may decrease value or improvements that enhance values aren't  always known. Charles Henington, Caddo's assessor, says assessors try to monitor improvements mostly through construction permits.

"Some people don't get permits," Henington said. "It's not so much they don't have to, but they should. We might not know about it. We might know about it through other ways, but not through permits."

Edminston says realtor websites also come in handy. "Again, we can't go into the house, but the realtor's websites like realtor.com, things like that, are very good," he said. "Because, when a person is trying to sell you a house, they tell you all the great things about."

Henington says any new, higher selling price is factored into the sales average. It seems similar to how the auditors reached their findings.

"So, we have to look at several sales in that area," Henington said. "If they're all selling for the same amount, we assume that price per square foot would also effect this house we have not be able to look at or the sale has not happened on."

He adds a home may be singled out because of a recent sales price to perform inquiries. "Now, if we're so far off, say we have it for $50,000 and it sales for $200,000, yeah we might do that," Henington said.

In the state tax commission audit, it was found that Caddo had nearly a little more than 47 percent of its sampled properties out of the fair-market value range. Bossier Parish had nearly 42 percent.

 

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