I got my property tax bill in the mail yesterday – and it has doubled! I almost blew a gasket! I had heard rumblings of the sharp hike in taxes from several people, and it was evident in the bright yellow envelope.
I don’t know if Lawrence Chehardy realizes that we are in a recession and the housing bubble post-Katrina has exploded. Not to mention the fact that several homes in my neighborhood have sold in the past 2 years well below the market value he and his belligerent staff have determined to be the benchmark for taxes in 2008. And I am sure that if the hike stands, that they will be loathe to lower them in the future once they get their grubby hands on all that green.
So yesterday I fired off a letter in protest, sent certified mail of course. Since it took well over 30 minutes to get through by phone, I suspect that plenty people are rightly pissed off. And that letter could have been avoided in the first place if the bitch on the other end of the phone when I finally got through wasn’t such a condescending asshole. Yeah, you probably have had hundreds of irate calls, but that is your job to field them and help out the citizens, not turn into a raving banshee.
And to add salt to the wound, I hear this morning that Jefferson Parish now wants to raise the sales tax? And they are still raking in the cash from red light ticket revenue? Pathetic…
New Jefferson Parish property tax bills shock many
by Mark Waller, The Times-Picayune
Tuesday December 16, 2008, 10:00 AM
For thousands of homeowners in Jefferson Parish, opening a property tax bill in recent days and spotting that crucial bottom line has turned out to be a traumatic experience.
Brett Dalessandro, for example, paid $30 in taxes on his Metairie house and lot last year. This year the bill is about $778. “I think they should have eased into it, ” Dalessandro said. He had heard that property values were increasing but didn’t expect his bill to multiply 26 times. “If I would’ve known that, I would have been putting aside money every month, ” he said.
With the bills hitting mailboxes in the past two weeks, Jefferson officials say they are hearing many reports of sticker shock. Assessor Lawrence Chehardy said a confluence of factors conspired to raise bills.
Chehardy said discounts for damage from the 2005 hurricane season have mostly lapsed as people have repaired their properties. As a result of this and other factors, the values of homes, businesses and other property have collectively risen an average of 29 percent in the parish. For single-family homes, the average jump is 43 percent.
Meanwhile, six local government agencies opted to capture more revenue from the higher property values. Officials in those agencies argue that they need the money to maintain and improve vital services.
The agencies, which include the School Board, Sheriff’s Office, coroner’s office, East Jefferson Levee District, West Jefferson Levee District and the city of Harahan, retained their old tax rates to generate more money, instead of cutting the rates to keep revenue the same as it was before the 2008 reassessment. That reassessment was the first comprehensive revaluation since 2004.
Property values are increasing so much that many people are seeing larger portions of their property emerge from under the shelter of the homestead exemption, which spares the first $75,000 of an owner-occupied home’s value from taxation, Chehardy said.
“That’s why I’ve been a loud voice for raising the exemption, ” Chehardy said. “If we had adjusted the exemption for inflation these many years, we might be talking about the tax bills right now, but we wouldn’t be talking about sticker shock.”
Dalessandro’s house was valued at a little more than $75,000 in 2004, and he paid taxes on a small amount. Now the house is valued at more than $150,000, based on recent sales in his neighborhood, and he now pays taxes on an amount equivalent to his home’s previously assessed value.
It comes at a difficult time, he said, during the expensive holiday season in a moribund economy with higher insurance and grocery costs to contend with. Dalessandro sells home renovation services for a living, and he said business is slowing.
The rising property values seem counterintuitive in a storm-ravaged region, said Anne Schaefer, whose Kenner house flooded after Hurricane Katrina and suffered siding damage in Gustav. Her taxes are increasing from $652 last year to $1,387.
Schaefer said she and her husband are also relying on stock market investments for their retirement, making for an ugly financial picture in recent months. “It’s not going to kill us, but will we go out to eat in a nice restaurant next weekend?” she said. “No.”
Under the circumstances, Schaefer questioned the Parish Council’s proposal last week for a new quarter-cent sales tax to fight crime and blight, which will go before voters April 4. Supporters of the tax argue that letting crime go unchecked would be worse for residents and the economy than higher taxes.
But Jake Orfanello, a Metairie homeowner facing a bill that ballooned from $275 to $900, said a higher sales tax would be difficult to swallow. “The valuation of the properties in Jefferson Parish is what escalated,” Orfanello said. “That’s a little hard to believe with the recession and the real estate market right now. I don’t know how they came up with such a high valuation.”
Chehardy said he warned taxpayers of the coming increases with letters in August and again last month. Even if houses take longer to sell in the current market conditions, Chehardy said, they eventually sell for higher prices, pushing up values. “Nobody’s giving away their home, ” he said. “When they sell them, they’re getting a good price.”
Parish Council Chairman John Young said the angst over the tax bills seems to be pervasive. Young pointed out that the council is one government entity that chose not to seize on the higher property values to collect more revenue.
“It’s the talk of the day, ” he said. “We have received and fielded calls with people that are just dissatisfied with the property tax bills. “I’ve also been approached while I’m in the grocery store, coffee shops, restaurants, ” he said. “People are reeling from their property tax bills.”