Flood wreaks havoc on Capital Region property tax reassessments

Raymond Lieteau pulls furniture out of his flood damaged home with the help of his friend Danny Lemoine, 48, in Baton Rouge. Lieteau had more than five feet of water in his home. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)

Add property tax reassessments to the growing list of problems caused by last week’s historic flood.

By state law, parish assessors must reassess all properties that sustained flood damage. Though there’s no deadline by which the new assessments must be done, property tax bills typically go out in early December, which leaves local assessors precious little time.

It’s a particularly daunting task for Livingston Parish Assessor Jeff Taylor. An estimated 80% of properties in the parish flooded, and in the commercial hub of Denham Springs some 90% of homes and businesses were under water.

Taylor is scrambling to find money to help farm out some of the reassessment work, which will be costly and time consuming—not only because of the volume of properties that need to be inspected but because of the differentiation among flood levels.

“I got 15 inches of water in my home. My neighbor across the street got six feet,” Taylor says. “So we’re not going to be able to look at a flood map and apply a blanket number to a given neighborhood or subdivision. We’re going to really have to look at every house.”

It’s important to be meticulous in order to create an accurate tax roll, Taylor says.

In East Baton Rouge Parish, where an estimated 53,000 homes and 3,800 businesses flooded, Assessor Brian Wilson is in the process of trying to figure out how best to proceed with the reassessment. He says he doesn’t have adequate manpower in his office so he is looking to hire a third-party firm.

“We’re kind of in a planning mode at this point and trying to get our ducks in a row,” he says. “This is unprecedented for this area, so we’re just trying to get the ball rolling.”

While it’s not clear how or when the reassessments will get done, what is certain is that the value of flood-damaged properties will decrease, though millage rates will stay the same. For the owners of flooded properties, that will mean a much-needed break on their property tax bills. For the local governments, libraries, fire departments and school systems that rely on the revenues generated by those property taxes, it will be a big blow.

“Those districts that rely on tax millages are going to be without a huge source of their revenue,” Taylor says. “Most of them were already strapped for funds. How much more now will they be strapped?”

BREC is among the agencies in East Baton Rouge Parish that receives millages. Last year, the agency’s 14.4-mill property tax generated about $52 million. BREC Superintendent Carolyn McKnight says she is concerned about the decreased revenue, especially because BREC has several facilities in its system that sustained flood damage. However, there’s not much she can do about it at this point except plan for belt tightening.

“My focus is to make sure we are operating as efficiently as we can,” she says. “We’ll do whatever we need to do.”

—Stephanie Riegel

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