During a break from an otherwise rainy day, Robert Taylor opened the mailbox in front of his home on Bayou Estates Drive in Bayou Gauche and pulled out a piece of mail containing his new flood insurance policy.
With trepidation he tore open the top of the rain sodden envelope. After studying it for a moment, he looked somewhat relieved and made his announcement.
“It’s a 9 percent increase,” he said.
Before opening the bill, Taylor was skeptical that the promised delays by FEMA and local congressmen would actually keep his flood insurance rate from beginning its rapid ascent to $28,540 a year, a figure he said FEMA has provided him on three separate occasions.
This year, though his bill is going from the upper $300 mark to over $400, Taylor is at least spared from a bill he estimates would have been more than $5,000 if Biggert-Waters had kicked in on Oct. 1 as was originally planned.
Although the increase in Taylor’s new flood insurance policy is relatively small, he feels he has only gained a temporary reprieve from the exponential increase in flood insurance premiums FEMA has promised are coming.
“Of course FEMA talks about delaying the flood insurance rates, but I haven’t seen one piece of paper signed by anybody that says these flood insurance rates are going to go away. Until I do, I can’t be certain of anything,” he said.
That is why Taylor will be in St. Charles Parish Assessor Tab Troxler’s office on Thursday, Aug. 29 when the property tax rolls are opened.
Taylor, whose home is considered eight feet below base flood elevation on newly proposed FEMA flood maps, said the assessor has already sent him a notice that his property value will decrease by 30 percent. That means the home he bought only eight years ago for $230,000 is now worth only $160,000 in the eyes of the assessor. He argues that the value of his home is actually much less and will remain that way until Biggert-Waters is repealed or a comprehensive levee system is put in place.
“My next door neighbor listed his home for sale two weeks before we were notified about Biggert-Waters. In those two weeks he had four people come see it and in the five months since then no one has come to look at it,” he said. “How can they say we have any value to our homes if people won’t even turn down Bayou Gauche Road to look at them?”
Taylor has vowed that he will appeal the reassessment to the St. Charles Parish Council with the hopes of having his home valued at zero until a long range plan is put into place that will guarantee his flood insurance will not rise to the rates quoted by FEMA.
“It is pretty simple, this is the law right now. Until that law is changed my home is worthless,” he said. “I can’t sell this house. People are not willing to take the risk that they will someday have to pay $28,000 in flood insurance. In fact, if I went out the front door and held my keys out to passersby and said ‘take it,’ no one would be able to due to the flood insurance alone.”
Troxler, who is in his first year as St. Charles Parish Assessor, took the unprecedented step of ordering a special reassessment after FEMA and the National Flood Insurance Program announced that flood insurance rates would see exponential increases under the Biggert-Waters Act. The act prohibits the grandfathering of homes that were built to code at the time of their construction and does away with flood insurance subsidies for those who are determined to live in at-risk areas of the country.
In St. Charles Parish, the Bayou Gauche community and parts of Paradis and Des Allemands are facing the highest flood insurance rate increases due to FEMA not recognizing the Sunset Drainage District Levee. Overnight, that has propelled areas that have never flooded and were considered safe into the highest risk flood insurance category.
Troxler has taken the step to reduce the value on more than 1,600 homes in the area under an alternative assessment termed “functional obsolescence” that revalues homes based on extenuating circumstances. The homes fell by 18 percent to 30 percent.
In the case of the homes within the Sunset Drainage District, there have not been enough home sales since FEMA’s announcement to provide a viable comparison of home values in the area.
“We are facing an unprecedented situation in the revaluations of property,” Troxler said.
Residents will have a chance to work out a revaluation of their property with his office, but ultimately their fate may be in the hands of the Parish Council, who will hear appeals and have the final say on the matter.
“Some residents I have talked to have flat out said ‘hey, with this going on my property is not worth anything,’” Troxler said. “And they have told me that no matter what value you place on my property, if it is not zero, I will be in front of the Parish Council.”
Troxler said although he has done his best to make the new property assessments fair, he believes there will be a large number of appeals that may require a special session of the Parish Council.
“Hopefully what I have done is fair and you won’t get many appeals, but I have spoken to many residents and I quite frankly understand were they are coming from. I talked to some that said ‘I don’t want to change a light bulb in my home because I am afraid of losing it, much less pay taxes,’” he said.
Councilman Paul Hogan, whose district includes the Sunset Drainage District, said he is likely to go with Troxler’s opinion on the new assessments if appeals should be brought in front of the council.
“As far as property value being zero, I don’t foresee us dropping property values down to nothing,” he said. “It will be up to the council to hear the pleas of citizens coming to us with appeals, but unless they come up with something more informative than what the assessor has provided us, I don’t know that we would be able to provide much more relief than that.”
Hogan said that effort to stop greatly increased flood insurance costs is ongoing and he trusts that the issue can be resolved.
“Those guys may be right. it may be worth zero. However, there are some things in the works that will delay Biggert-Waters and maybe even solve the problem,” he said. “I think the reassessment is efficient for this year and we will reevaluate it next year in light of Biggert-Waters. If nothing has changed we can lower it again.”
Those who would like to inspect the property tax rolls will have a chance to do so at the assessor’s office Aug. 29 through Sept. 12 from Monday-Friday. The office will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Appeals must be filed with the Parish Council before Sept. 30 at 4 p.m.