Now that some two dozen of the most prominent business leaders calling Baton Rouge home have decreed that the “greater good” of East Baton Rouge Parish is absolute, perhaps this august cohort can turn its better together attention to the job not being done by our tax assessor.
Brian Wilson’s job is to pretty much drive around the parish and accurately determine the taxable value of every parcel of private property and any associated house or building. Yet his decades-long willful ineptitude is forcing all of us to pay higher than necessary millage rates by allowing a rather sizable segment of our property-owning population to not pay anything close to their fair share in taxes.
How can this not be cause for outrage? This is an insult to the greater good’s underlying principles.
No doubt, I’ve rung this Starkville-sized cowbell before, but—inspired by the better angels of our good government—it’s clear, as famed music producer Bruce Dickenson implored to Blue Öyster Cult, “I got a fever … and the only prescription … is more cowbell.”
Seriously, if people like John Engquist, Sean Reilly, Jim Bernhard, Mike Wampold and Richard Lipsey, along with a who’s who cast of a dozen or so more, believe the creation of St. George and the resulting annual city-parish sales tax loss of between $48 million and $60 million (and rising with each passing lawsuit and budget impact statement) is a death knell for life as we know it in our world of consolidated government, then surely the every year loss of millions upon millions of property tax dollars is worthy of a call to greater good arms.
C’mon, if the St. George crowd is selfish, racist and wrong for not wanting to share their tax dollars, then isn’t equally abhorrent for tens of thousands of East Baton Rouge property owners to not fairly share their tax bounty because Wilson refuses to do his actual job?
You would think, right?
Well, Mr. Wilson was just up for re-election to a fifth term and we heard bupkis from any of these overnight converts to the utopian notion of self-sacrifice for the betterment of all. There was no news conference at the Pecue Lane headquarters of H&E Equipment Services decrying the fiscal wrong that’s been happening since at least 2002. No this-is-wrong flyers or emails from Lipsey and his Put Louisiana First group. No fiscal impact analysis from BRAC.
Raise your hand if this news is even remotely stunning? Anyone?
If nothing else, shouldn’t we, as Donna Saurage beseeched when the topic was St. George, work together for the kids? Truth is, property taxes are a much bigger financial deal for public schools than sales taxes.
Who knows, maybe they were all busy volunteering at a homeless shelter.
Or maybe the sounds of silence emanating from these affluent folks with rather tony homes and commercial property holdings has something to do with the fact that no one benefits more from Wilson’s intentional incompetence than affluent folks with rather tony homes and commercial property holdings.
You’ll never see it, courtesy of this town’s shadow illuminati, but somewhere in the bowels of a dark and musty storage room is an unpublished draft of a property tax study done less than 10 years ago by some really smart and knowledgeable people. After crunching the numbers with high-powered computers and fancy formulas, the double-secret findings were that assessments in this parish are off, on average, by almost 30%. Zero in on the highest-valued land and the most expensive mansions and the miscalculations push closer to 40%.
Which explains why the study—once the results were known—disappeared faster than Dexy’s Midnight Runners.
Thanks to technology, one can go to the tax assessor’s website and check for yourself. Just find the geoportal map, start clicking on parcels and brace yourself for hours of head-scratching bewilderment. It’s a particularly good time if you concentrate on where the wealthier among us reside.
I guess even the greater good has its limits.
Wilson doesn’t even pretend his assessments are accurate, instead trumpeting what he says is a “fair approach.” Question: What’s fair about the middle class and those who just purchased a home picking up a disproportionate share of the tab?
And before my rich friends scream about the amount they pay in property taxes, let me preemptively respond by saying if you don’t want to pay the true property tax bill on a $4 million home … then don’t live in a $4 million home.
It’s that simple.
But why just pick on the rich: Where are Better Together, Together Baton Rouge and M.E. Cormier on this issue? If these organizations are willing to go to war with ExxonMobil over property taxes and ITEP, then isn’t the pitiful assessing of property values in this parish—which results in a higher tax millage rate for those without influence—a skirmish worth having? Maybe if the churches and nonprofits that fuel these groups had to actually pay property taxes they might get instantly interested in this injustice.
Also worth wondering is why hasn’t Mayor Sharon Weston Broome and the leadership of every independent taxing authority in this parish come out with budget impact reports? Are the “lost” tax dollars from St. George the only ones the administration cares about?
Maybe they’re all huddling with lawyer to the stars Mary Olive Pierson, drawing straws to see who the plaintiffs will be in the lawsuit she’s undoubtedly planning to file. Given the parish attorney’s office does its job about as well as Wilson’s, the case should be a slam dunk.
When a $1 billion city-parish budget is so strapped for cash that money can’t be found for police raises, and the only way to come up with local match dollars on desperately needed federal flood control projects is with Bobby Jindal-like financial gimmicks, then you’d like to believe Broome and her right-hand man, Darryl Gissel, would passionately pursue every penny of potential tax revenue.
Are they ignorant of the problem, or is it that A) some of her biggest contributors benefit from Wilson’s failure, B) her most ardent rank-and-file voters are only minimally impacted, C) the biggest financial losers in this farce are small business owners and middle-class homeowners who likely didn’t vote for her, or D) all of the above?
The greater good is a wonderful thing—but only when it applies universally.
Keep that in mind as the bells of this Christmas season are ringing and the gift known as your property tax bill arrives in the mailbox. Maybe then you’ll drop the jingle bells … for more cowbell.