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Sunday, July 21, 2019

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Parish Assessor to Council—“It’s time to take a second look at millages”

Parish Assessor to Council—“It’s time to take a second look at millages”

Rarely does the Lafourche Parish Council lend its undistracted “ear” to any presentation when it convenes a public meeting. There are usually one or two councilmen talking aside, or administrative staff conducting other business behind the scenes. This is the norm at a public meeting.

But when Lafourche Parish Assessor Wendy Thibodeaux spoke at Tuesday’s public meeting in Mathews on the millage rate process, everyone paid attention to her warnings about the need for all taxing entities in the parish to roll back their millage rates.

Lafourche Parish has the third highest millage rate (131.93) of any coastal parish, exceeded only by St. Bernard and Cameron parishes and 20% higher than Terrebonne, said Thibodeaux.

“In 2014, taxing districts in Lafourche generated $123.6 million,” she stated.

Of that amount, about $52 million comes from watercraft, which each year are assessed a tax if they are in Lafourche Parish on January 1.

Their incentive to pay taxes in Lafourche is a state law which lets them take a dollar-for-dollar tax credit when they submit their tax returns in the spring.

That credit will probably change (or be eliminated) next year when a new governor will undoubtedly call a special legislative session in Baton Rouge to deal with the state’s budget problems.

The state has explored ways of generating revenue, one of which is eliminating credits such as the watercraft credit.

Ideas offered in past sessions show what legislators are thinking with regard to watercraft.

House Bill 805 sought to remove the watercraft tax credit, making it non-refundable. This would have essentially removed the incentive for a boat owner to pay his taxes in Lafourche when other parishes are cheaper.

Senate Bill 177 would have exempted watercraft from paying the tax. That move would have eliminated about 41% of Lafourche’s tax base.

Under that bill, without watercraft paying property tax, governmental entities like the Sheriff’s office would lose $4.1 million, School Board would lose $17 million, and the Library District would lose $2.1 million, and so on. Every board would be affected.

Thibodeaux is suggesting a solution, asking taxing districts to roll back millages, with the goal of putting more money in the pockets of taxpayers rather than increasing taxes.

“One of my jobs as assessor is to keep the balance, to keep government funded,” she said.

Thibodeaux used her office as an example. In 2011, her office generated $1.8 million on 2.5 mills. In the following year, a lower millage of 2.47 mills still brought in $1.9 million and gave her office a $120,000 surplus.
In 2013 and 2014, the same millage rates brought in $2.2 and $2.4 million respectively, giving her office another $187,000 surplus.

In 2015, the assessor’s office decided to roll its millage down to 2.06 mills, and still generated enough revenue to do its job, she said.

Thibodeaux encouraged all taxing districts to do the same because she believes lowering taxes will create trust and encourage taxpayers to stay in Lafourche.

“As we all know, the watercraft industry is hurting now. Giving people back their money will be much better for them. If they go out of business, we will never collect on them again,” she warned.

Thibodeaux noted that she has been to 18 parish boards to give her presentation, and has 16 more to visit. She is telling them that each year taxes increase about 7-12%. But next year, even with new taxable properties coming into the parish, that increase will probably not be realized as a result of stacked boats paying less tax.

When Councilman Phillip Gouaux brought up the Library Board’s funds, Thibodeaux said she had spoken to them.

“They have $10.75 million in the bank, and that figure is increasing every year. They need to open their eyes, the public needs to open its eyes,” said Gouaux.

“I am not familiar with how much it costs to run the library. I am just asking boards to be aware and to take a second look,” she said.

Councilman Aaron Caillouet remarked that most boards have a “don’t tax me, tax the guy behind the tree” attitude regarding their present millage rates. “If no one changes this attitude, we’re not going to be able to change anything,” he warned.

Thibodeaux’s message is simple: “In 2015, Lafourche Parish has $1 billion of taxable value. 2016 is a reassessment year. Most districts have their millages all the way up. We don’t have to be all the way up. Levy the millage to get what you need, not create excess.”