There are plenty of stories about government waste and problems that have or continue to cost local taxpayers money. This is not one of those. In fact, this is just the opposite.
"The sheriff's department has collected over a million dollars in homesteads," said Caddo Tax Assessor Charles Henington.
That's right. Caddo Parish has pulled in over a million dollars in taxes in just three months this year. How are they doing it?
Well, they hired a company called Assessure to audit the tax rolls and find people that were claiming homestead exemptions that didn't qualify for them. In Louisiana, you are allowed to sign up for an exemption if you own and occupy a home. That means you can save $7,500 of the assessed value when it comes to paying property taxes.
That generally saves you about $1,000 a year in Caddo Parish. Assessure uses computer programs to find out who might not qualify.
"They give us the information and say we believe these folks have passed away or are not due a homestead here's the information. Then it's our job to finish making that determination whether to cancel the homestead or not," said Henington.
They're searching 2013 through 2016.
KTBS spoke with a Shreveport man, who didn't want to go on camera, but was identified by the computer program for claiming a homestead exemption here in the city for years; however, he had a Texas driver's all that time. He received multiple notices from the Caddo Parish Sheriffs Department telling him he needed to take care of his unpaid taxes because it was determined he didn't meet the requirement for an exemption. That's just one of the ways people are flagged.
"The quick research for them was when they went out and started looking for people who owned multiple houses. If you own one house then you probably got the homestead. If you had multiple houses they had to decide, hey which house are you living in? They also looked at DMV records to see where your cars are registered. A lot of people register cars in Texas because they don't want to pay Louisiana taxes over here for their motor vehicle," said Henington.
Others had rental properties so they didn't qualify and had to pay up and an even bigger group was people who had a parent pass away and they didn't transfer the title or let the parish know that person wasn't living there anymore.
They estimate the parish will end up bringing in close to $2 million in unpaid property taxes when this six- to seven-month process is done. And, if you're wondering -- if you haven't received a notice, you won't; they've all been sent out.
Henington feels the audit has been thorough enough that it will address problems that have been on the tax rolls for years. He's confident this one-time contract won't have to be repeated over and over again.
Caddo Parish is the second in the state to do this. Lafayette was first.
But with the success of this program other parishes and counties around the country are lining up to clean up their homestead exemptions and bring in much needed and overdue tax dollars.
The parish pays the contractor $400 for each one they find then subsequently collect taxes on. Henington estimates the parish has paid Assessure close to $300,000 up to now.