Property Tax Issues Surface

08/23/2016

Some Lincoln Parish taxpaying property owners are beginning to grumble a bit, now that notices are hitting mailboxes showing some assessments increasing 15% or more since the last statewide reassessment in 2012.

Two weeks ago, Lincoln Parish Tax Assessor Sheila Bordelon put out this news release on the procedure for appealing your assessment:

The property values are open for public inspection each year for a period of fifteen days. The 2016 period is from August 15-August 29. All property owners have the right to inquire should they think the market value placed upon their property by the Assessor is in error. Owners should contact the office prior to August 29, 2016 if you have questions. Louisiana law provides that valuation appeals after this date shall not be considered by the Assessor.

So if you want to appeal, you have until next Monday, August 29 to do it.

Physical Address: 307 N Homer St., Ruston, LA 71270
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 1218, Ruston, LA 71273
Phone: 318.251.5140
Fax: 318.251.5142
Office hours are 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday – Friday.

If you cannot come to terms, there is an appeal process whereby you can present your case to the local Board of Review. In Lincoln Parish, the Police Jury sits as the board of review. The meeting where you can present your case is set for Tuesday, September 13, 7:00 PM, Lincoln Parish Court House, third floor.

Some helpful data can be found at Nolo.com:

Useful Evidence for Your Appeal

In pursuing your appeal, several types of evidence may be useful, including:

A recent appraisal of your home.
A contractor’s report showing repair work needed on your home and how much the work will cost.
Documents showing actual sales prices in your neighborhood, and photographs of homes similar to yours, together with a list of their sales prices or taxable values.

At the hearing, you’ll probably have just five or ten minutes to present your case, so be succinct. Bring extra copies of your documentary evidence so that each hearing officer has a copy. Try to include a chart showing comparative sales prices and taxable values. You may want to arrive early so that you observe – and learn from – other people’s hearings.

You can appeal the local Board’s decision to the Louisiana Tax Commission. File your appeal with the Commission within 10 days after the local Board’s written decision is postmarked, or hand delivered to you.

Next, there is an appeal process to the Louisiana Tax Commission.

Here are the forms.

Finally, there is the ultimate check against taxes: vote against them whenever they’re on the ballot, and actively campaign with your neighbors, family, and friends to defeat them.

As we stated when we first began writing this newsblog over seven years ago, government at all levels never, ever does without.

Government can and does take care of itself – it has always prospered and grown, regardless of the local economy and the financial health of the citizens who fund its existence.

Mary Landrieu Calls out Clinton, Obama; Hell Has Frozen Over!

08/19/2016

From The Hayride:

In A Rare Moment, Mary Landrieu Thanks Trump For Louisiana Visit, Throws Shade At Hillary & Obama

After Donald Trump visited Louisiana to help unload supplies for victims ravaged by the massive, unprecedented flooding, former Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) thanked the GOP nominee and actually called out Hillary Clinton and President Obama for refusing to visit.

Here’s what Landrieu said:

Byron York Verified account @ByronYork

Mary Landrieu: ‘I want to thank Mr. Trump for coming to LA…I hope Sec Clinton will make her way down. I hope Pres Obama will make a visit.’

Meanwhile, Obama is has remained on vacation at Martha’s Vineyard, while Clinton has yet to even make an official statement on the flooding.

From The (Baton Rouge) Advocate

Appearing on CNN, former U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Democrat, also praised Trump’s trip.

“I want to thank Mr. Trump for coming to Louisiana,” she said. “He brought attention to our state and we need that now.”

Landrieu said she hopes that Clinton and Obama will make similar trips to Louisiana in the coming days.

“It’s really a serious disaster,” she said. “We need all the attention and help we can get.”

Former DA to Visit Greybar Hotel

08/19/2016

Former St. Charles District Attorney Harry Morel Sentenced to 3 Years Imprisonment for Obstruction of Justice

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

U.S. Attorney Kenneth A. Polite announced today HARRY J. MOREL, JR., age 73, was sentenced today after previously pleading guilty to obstruction of justice in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1512(d)(1).

U.S. District Judge Kurt D. Engelhardt sentenced MOREL to 3 years imprisonment, a $20,000 fine, 1 year of supervised release and a $100 special assessment.

According to court records, MOREL served as the elected prosecutor of St. Charles Parish, Louisiana from on or about January 1, 1979 until May 31, 2012. Thereafter, he became an Assistant District Attorney in the Office of the District Attorney for St. Charles Parish and remained in that position until January 11, 2013. MOREL resided in, and his office was located in, St. Charles Parish, Louisiana, in the Eastern District of Louisiana.

As District Attorney and as an Assistant District Attorney for St. Charles Parish, MOREL was responsible for prosecuting individuals charged with criminal and traffic offenses against the State of Louisiana. As the District Attorney, MOREL had the authority and discretion to, among other things, make bail recommendations, make sentence recommendations and bring dismiss, forego or reduce charges.

MOREL freely admitted that he is guilty of Obstruction of Justice in that he harassed Individual “A” and attempted to prevent and dissuade Individual “A” from attending or testifying in an official proceeding, i.e., the federal grand jury, by telling Individual “A” to “get rid of” and to “destroy” the evidence of a meeting they had and to deny the inappropriate nature of the meeting to law enforcement officials. Furthermore, based on Individual “A”‘s representations, MOREL believed there would be a federal Grand Jury investigation, and as a result asked her to conceal information that would have likely led to her being a witness before that body.

MOREL also admitted that on other occasions, between 2007 and 2009, he solicited sex from other individuals who were defendants or who had family members who were defendants in the St. Charles Parish criminal justice system. While soliciting sex from these individuals, MOREL likewise used the office of the District Attorney to provide benefits to these other individuals, including falsifying community service reports.

U.S. Attorney Polite praised the work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office in investigating this matter. Assistant U.S. Attorneys James Baehr and Mark Miller were in charge of the prosecution.

Ouachita Court Coverup Update

08/17/2016

AUDIO RECORDING: Law clerk says time sheets were an ‘estimate’

By Zach Parker zach@ouachitacitizen.com

Allyson Campbell, a law clerk at Fourth Judicial District Court in Monroe, who was accused of payroll fraud and concealing or destroying court documents, told state investigators her time sheets were “more of an estimate” than a record of hours worked, according to an audio recording of that interview obtained by The Ouachita Citizen.

During their questioning of Campbell, investigators with the state Office of Inspector General and with Louisiana State Police appeared to suggest answers and possible explanations for Campbell’s activities, which came under scrutiny amid complaints and ongoing lawsuits against her and the court’s judges.

The law clerk’s and investigators’ collaborative explanations were recorded in a Jan. 28, 2016 interview between Inspector General Investigator Heath Humble and State Police Investigator Ron Huey with Campbell at the law office of her attorney, Brian Crawford of Monroe, who also was present during the interview.

An audio recording of the interview is available online at http://www.ouachitacitizen.com where the recording displays at the bottom of the article.

Significant Budget Boost for Ruston PD

08/16/2016

The Ruston Police Department (RPD) will receive a significant budget boost for the 2016-2017 budget year, Chief Steve Rogers told Lincoln Parish News Online (LPNO) at last night’s Ruston City Council Meeting.

Rogers said the increase would be a little over $200 thousand, about a 5% increase over last year’s total of about $4 million.

Also, significant pay raises were included for the personnel, it was learned.

Said Ward 5 Alderman Bruce Siegmund, “I am glad to see the raise for policemen. I believe we should have the best police force around – part of that means they need to get paid for it. We’ve got some vacancies now – we need some new folks in there, and so I think that’ll help.”

The department has been short-handed LPNO had recently reported, and recently had to curtail vacations to keep sufficient manpower on patrol.

In other business, the council unanimously voted to rollback property tax rates to accommodate increase property valuations. The council also voted NOT to roll forward the rates to the maximum allowed.

This means, on average, a property owner should pay no more in property taxes than last year.

Property Tax Roll Forward on Ruston Council Agenda

08/14/2016

Taxpaying property owners in Ruston and Lincoln Parish have one more hurdle to clear if they are to escape higher taxes paid to local governments.

Ruston’s Board of Aldermen will vote on increasing millages to 5.88 mils from the 5.24 that has been established as the “roll back” rate.

See here the proposed ordinances.

Last week, the Lincoln Parish Police Jury defeated a roll forward attempt on four of the six taxes it collects.

The Lincoln Parish School Board and the Lincoln Parish Sheriff did not properly advertise by July 15 their intention of raising property taxes, so they are barred by law from proposing a roll forward.

The meeting will be at 6:30 PM, Monday, August 15, Ruston City Hall, 401 North Trenton, first floor courtroom/council chamber. The Personnel/Finance Committee will also meet.

Here are the agendas:

Council Meeting
Personnel/Finance Committee

How Not to Conduct Local Government Meetings

08/12/2016

Twice this month duly elected members of two local legislative bodies were denied their right to fully participate in a deliberative process.

Last week, at Ruston’s Board of Aldermen meeting, Jim Pierce (Ward 4), moved to amend an ordinance that was duly moved, seconded, and was open for discussion. The original ordinance as moved extended alcohol sales in Ruston to 2 AM, from Midnight, among other provisions. Pierce wanted to amend it and delete only the extended hours.

Mayor Ronny Walker, who was chairing the meeting, deferred to City Attorney Bill Carter, who ruled that since Pierce’s amendment wasn’t “friendly,” that it was out of order. A friendly amendment is defined as one that the original mover has no objection to.

Last Tuesday, Lincoln Parish Police Juror Randy Roberson’s (District 4) duly seconded amendment to a motion was ignored by Jury President Jody Backus (District 7). During the discussion, there was again talk about whether it was a “friendly amendment.”

In both these cases, the proposed amendments could have had profound effects upon pending legislation, and consequently upon taxpayers and citizens.

The issue of “friendly” is discussed in Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised (11th Edition) thus:

Question 8: How do you deal with a “friendly amendment”?

Answer: On occasion, while a motion is being debated, someone will get up and offer what he or she terms a “friendly amendment” to the motion, the maker of the original motion will “accept” the amendment, and the chair will treat the motion as amended. This is wrong. Once a motion has been stated by the chair, it is no longer the property of the mover, but of the assembly. Any amendment, “friendly” or otherwise, must be adopted by the full body, either by a vote or by unanimous consent.

If it appears to the chair that an amendment (or any other motion) is uncontroversial, it is proper for the chair to ask if there is “any objection” to adopting the amendment. If no objection is made, the chair may declare the amendment adopted. If even one member objects, however, the amendment is subject to debate and vote like any other, regardless of whether its proposer calls it “friendly” and regardless of whether the maker of the original motion endorses its adoption.

This brings up another question. Under what parliamentary rules does the Ruston City Council and the Lincoln Parish Police Jury operate?

If the body wants it to be Robert’s, then it needs to be documented and put in writing. Many Louisiana parishes have done just that.

Otherwise, if there are no established rules, and the chair gets to make them up on the fly, then you get what happened in these two cases.

Edit 8/13/16 – Noon

We just found this pertinent ordinance for the City of Ruston

Sec. 2-123. – Rules of order.

The conduct of all board of aldermen meetings shall be governed by the most recent edition of Robert’s Rules of Order, Newly Revised to the extent such rules do not conflict with the provisions of R.S. 33:321—33:463 (the Lawrason Act).

(Ord. No. 1225, § 1, 4-15-1996; Ord. No. 1546, § 1, 12-3-2007)

Partial Transcript of LPPJ Meeting

08/11/2016

For several years, we have tape-recorded all the meeting we’ve attended – city council, police jury, school board – mostly so that we can accurately report quotes from the participants, but also, as in this case, to recall exactly who said what and when. It is amazing sometimes how after the fact, several people who witnessed the same discussion, or actually participated in it, can come up with differing accounts of what happened.

On several occasions, we’ve confronted politicians about what they said, only to have them deny having said it. An audio tape is invaluable for times like that.

In this case during last Tuesday’s Lincoln Parish Police Jury (LPPJ) meeting, there was a critical point where Randy Roberson (District Four) attempted to amend Joe Henderson’s (District Nine) motion to adopt the roll-forward ordinance.

As we had reported earlier, Henderson’s motion was to adopt all six millage rates as a group. Roberson wanted to amend the motion to vote on each tax individually. Jury President Jody Backus ignored Roberson’s duly seconded motion, and called for the vote on Henderson’s original motion.

Herewith the word-for-word discussion:

Roberson: “Can we roll the millages back and change the library millage?”

Annette Straughter (District 12): “I think we have a motion on the floor first, don’t we?”

Roberson: “I’m going to amend the motion, if I can get a ruling that I can.”

Henderson: “If you get a second on the amendment.”

Bobby Bennett: “It’s been seconded.”

There was some more discussion on procedure before this final comment.

Walter Pullen (District 6): You’re not trying to change one little thing about the amendment, you’re trying to do a whole new motion.”

Roberson: “Well then I know what to do, so go ahead.”

By this point President Jody Backus (District Seven) had never acknowledged Roberson’s amendment motion and second, and said this: “We now have a motion on the floor. We have a second, and we’re going to call for a roll call vote at this time.”

After the vote failed, Backus then moved for ANOTHER vote on the identical motion. It also failed 7-5.

Notice of Values for the 2016 Reassessment to be Mailed

08/11/2016

From the Lincoln Parish Tax Assessor’s Office

Lincoln Parish property owners will receive a Notice of Value next week if their value has increased more than 15% from the previous value. Louisiana law mandates a reassessment of all properties as well as a mailed notification of assessed values every four years. The notice is NOT a tax bill, but a form to show the value of your property for 2016.

The assessed value for residential property is 10% of its Fair Market Value, and commercial structures are assessed at 15% of their Fair Market Value. The notice mailed will show the market value and the assessed value and the homestead credit if applicable.

The property values are open for public inspection each year for a period of fifteen days. The 2016 period is from August 15-August 29. All property owners have the right to inquire should they think the market value placed upon their property by the Assessor is in error. Owners should contact the office prior to August 29, 2016 if you have questions. Louisiana law provides that valuation appeals after this date shall not be considered by the Assessor.

Taxpayers that own and live in their home may be eligible for homestead exemption which exempts parish taxes from the first $75,000 of market value on the home. Mobile homes also qualify for the homestead exemption if you are the owner and live in the mobile home. You must bring proof of ownership (registration/title or bill of sale) to qualify for homestead on a mobile home.

Other taxpayer benefits available include the “Over 65 Freeze”, “Use Value” for timber land or pasture land with three acres or more, “Disabled Freeze” for permanently totally disabled persons determined by a final non-appealable judgment of court, and the “Disabled Veteran Freeze”. To qualify, the combined adjusted gross income of federal tax returns for the 2015 year must be $71,491 or less. You must provide all proper documentation to qualify by September 15, 2016.

Please call the office to see if you may qualify for some type of exemption. The Assessor’s Office is located on the first floor of the Police Jury Complex at 307 North Homer Street and the office number is 318-251-5140. All values are available to view at http://www.lincolnparish.org/assessor.

LPPJ Tax Rollforward Fails; Bizarre Attempt to Re-vote Tried

08/10/2016

An ordinance that would have “rolled forward” some property taxes, while cutting the Lincoln Parish Library’s millage rate failed at last night’s Lincoln Parish Police Jury (LPPJ) meeting on a 7-5 vote. A 2/3 majority was required to enact passage.

Voting yes were:

Theresa Wyatt (District One)
Hazel Hunter (District Two)
Walter Pullen (District Six)
Jody Backus (District Seven)
Joe Henderson (District Nine)
Sharyon Mayfield (District Eleven)
Annette Straughter (District Twelve)

The no votes were:

Bobby Bennett (District Three)
Randy Roberson (District Four)
David Hammons (District Five)
Skip Russell (District Eight)
Nancy Wilson (District Ten)

Just prior to the split vote, the jury unanimously voted to “roll back” the millages, as is required by law. The roll forward is allowed only every four years, coincident with a statewide property tax reassessment that is also done every four years.

See here the two ordinances.

A more detailed explanation of the “roll back/roll forward” procedure can be found here.

The defeated motion would have rolled forward the two general alimony taxes and two road taxes, but would have cut the library tax enough to offset the others, and then some.

In answer to a question, Parish Treasurer Laura Hartt said the expected total 2016 tax revenue with the roll forward would have been $6.67 million, compared to a 2015 revenue actually collected of $6.77 million. The 2016 estimate took into account the 2016 property reassessments.

The roll back ordinance, as adopted, will collect $6.678 million in revenue, according to figures furnished by Lincoln Parish Tax Assessor Sheila Bordelon.

Just prior to the vote on the roll forward, Parish Administrator Courtney Hall read aloud the ordinance rates, and Joe Henderson moved for approval. “That was my motion,” he said.

During discussion, Roberson asked if the rates could be voted upon individually, to which Henderson said his motion was for all the rates to be voted upon at once.

Roberson moved to amend and allow the rates to be considered individually, and it was seconded. It never came to a vote, with the chairman (Backus) calling for a vote on the original motion.

Surprised by the ordinance’s failure, Backus moved to vote again on the same motion, a procedure not contemplated in any parliamentary procedure we’ve ever seen. It too failed, with the same vote.

To his credit, Henderson questioned what was going on. “I got a problem. I thought when something passed, it’s over with and go on.”

The jury then went back and made a roll call vote on the first ordinance (roll back), and it was unanimous also.

There was still some discussion about still trying to vote individually, until it was pointed out that such an item wasn’t on the agenda, and that the two ordinances as introduced had been duly moved and properly voted upon.

Henderson agreed: “You can’t undo it. The rule is the rule, we voted on each one. And that’s the end of that.”

Later in the meeting, the jury adopted a resolution placing on the Saturday, 12/16 ballot a vote re-imposing the two road taxes which will be expiring soon. The rates as proposed will be 4.41 mils each.

Some Commentary on the Definition of Tax

There was an interesting exchange between Roberson and Henderson about taxes, their collection, and word definitions.

During the debate, Roberson said, “I”m not going to vote to roll the millages forward and confiscate 7 1/2% more money from people, when they don’t realize what is happening.”

Henderson objected to the term “confiscate.”

Said Henderson, “You can’t use the word confiscate. Then, the people get a perception that is what we’ve been doing. We vote on this at a public body, everybody knows. That’s not a good word.”

Of course, Roberson is precisely accurate. There is no voluntary component to payment of taxes to government.

You pay, or you are punished. Your property is seized. Your wages are garnisheed. Your bank account is frozen and the money therein is levied. Resist, and you are taken to jail at the point of a gun.

We understand that Henderson was trying to put forward the idea of a group of benevolent, smiling public servants trying to do the Greater Good with money voluntarily surrendered to government by taxpayers.

It ain’t so.


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