It is certainly not news that Shreveporters pay by far the highest property taxes in Louisiana. It is news, though, that in 2008 some paid property taxes they did not owe.
Caddo Parish Fire District 5 – or, “CFD5” – did the taxing, creating for itself a $250,000 windfall.
Then, the District chose to keep the money.
After reviewing hundreds of public documents, and interviewing willing public officials, there is no evidence of an effort to identify and return the tax money to those who overpaid.
District officials were notably defensive about the matter. The Board blocked my attempt to first meet with the District chief, and obtaining related public documents was punted to its attorney.
That attorney’s first letter (SEE here) sets out the Board’s position: it could never figure out a way to return the money.
Facts of the Matter
“Fire protection districts” like CFD5 provide their services to those who live outside the limits of municipalities that provide the same services. CFD5, as shown on its website, serves Dixie Garden, plus most of far Southeast Shreveport and Caddo.
By state law and Caddo Parish ordinance, these districts are legally established within parish governing bodies, meaning our Caddo Parish Commission. It appoints the volunteer members of each district’s board, which then does the taxing and spending.
As shown in its most recent Annual Report to the Louisiana Legislative Auditor, CFD5 is in good financial shape with a $4,973,425 “net position.”
The District estimates its take from the 2008 over-taxation was $249,002, though no independent source made such a calculation. When the interest rate the District otherwise employs – 2.15% – is added for years 2009 through 2015, the total due to these taxpayers is $288,972.
How It Happened
The District erred in a key document it submitted for the Caddo Parish Tax Assessor in September 2008. This routine, annual Resolution by the Board directs the assessor to levy certain, variable property tax millages on those in its District.
Owing to (a) the District’s successful $2,500,000 bond election earlier in 2008, and (b) annexations of some of its service areas by the City of Shreveport going back to 2000, CFD5 had three Debt Service property tax millages:
… 5.65-mills for unannexed property,
… 1.00-mill for former CFD5 property annexed by Shreveport before 2008, and
… 4.65-mills for former CFD5 property annexed by Shreveport in or after 2008.
The Board’s error was directing the assessor to tax all properties the full 5.65-mills for Debt Service.
The District quickly knew its mistake. Its CPA, Agee & Agee, wrote in a February 16, 2009, memo to the then-Board Chairman:
“We believe that when the tax assessor’s office calculated 2008 taxes to be assessed on property annexed into Shreveport for CPFD #5 that the total millage for both bonds of 5.65 was used in the calculation. … We believe based on that information, CPFD #5 could receive an estimated $249,001.73 in tax revenue that is not the district’s this year.” (Emphasis mine.)
Then, in the Board’s March 12, 2009, meeting, accountant Agee “… explained the over-collection of millage … (which) has been put in a separate account.” Attorney Jerry Jones “… recommended to the Board to work with the tax commission to pay the money back to the tax payers.” That never happened.
Learning how and why repayment did not occur is made much more difficult by a scarcity of related public documents. Attorney Anna O’Neal notes, “… apart from the documents enclosed herewith as exhibits, the District’s communications regarding (these issues) have been verbal.” So much for transparency.
CFD5 Magically Turns Debt to Taxpayers Into Revenue for Itself
Page 24 in the above-linked Annual Report includes this item: “13. In 2009, the District collected excess property tax revenue of $249,002. The statutory deadline for refund of these taxes expired in 2013.”
Then, on June 4, 2014, CFD5 auditor Marsha O. Millican, wrote to attorney Jones: “I noticed (CFD5 has) a liability on their books for 2009 tax money that was overcollected. … normally the excess tax collected is shown as a contribution from the taxpayers in the year it is overcollected.”
Jones responds in hours, “As for the fire district, I agree with your approach. In Louisiana there is a 3 year prescriptive period to recover overpaid taxes.”
Thus, a debt owed to specific, wronged taxpayers, deliberately held a certain number of years, magically became “a contribution to CFD5 from taxpayers.” ‘Positively incredible!
What Help for Serially Abused Property Tax Payers?
In June 2011, a meeting on the matter was held with Caddo Commissioner Mike Thibodeaux. Although his commission district is ground zero in all of this, he is said to have offered no real help. When I emailed him to confirm, he wrote, “I do not recall that meeting. I can neither confirm nor deny. 2011 was a long time ago.”
On the other side, just last month – July 23, 2015 to be exact – Caddo Parish Sheriff (and Ex-Officio Tax Collector) Steve Prator wrote a personal letter to the Louisiana Legislative Auditor for assistance. As Prator noted, “… if too much is collected by government then it should be returned.”
Often mentioned in these documents is Caddo Parish Tax Assessor Charles Henington. When I spoke to him about repaying those over-taxed, Henington offered that “somebody like an abstractor” would need to do a record-by-record search among those in subject (annexation) areas of CFD5.
So, riddle me this …
An experienced hand in such matters reached a simple – dare I say logical – conclusion. In 2009, the year following the taxing wreck, CFD5’s handling of all of this went off perfectly. Property owners were taxed properly, meaning precisely as they should have been in 2008 …
… why weren’t the 2009 taxpayer identifications and tax categorizations then used to identify and pay back, or credit, the tax over-payers of 2008?
(Elliott Stonecipher is in no way affiliated with any political party, and has long been a registered “Other,” or Independent. He has no client or other relationships which in any way influence his selections of subjects or the content of any article. His work is strictly in the public interest, with no compensation of any kind solicited or accepted. Appropriate credit to Mr. Stonecipher in the sharing – unedited only, please – of his work is appreciated.)