“I’ve had a lot of homeowners upset with this office - they aren’t happy with the large increase in property taxes they got this year. But there’s nothing the parish can do about it. I encourage property owners to write the governor, the tax commissioner and the state legislature to ask for tax relief.”
That’s how St. Charles Parish tax assessor Clyde Gisclair describes the firestorm he faced when new homeowners who received tax bills in December that were up to four times higher than they expected before they built.
For him and other tax assessors in the River Parishes, the housing boom sparked by Hurricane Katrina and Rita was indeed the “perfect tax storm,” inflating home values overnight and creating a "valuation scenario" that could cause some people to lose their homes when older, established homes are reassessed in 2008.
Just days ago, Gisclair and his colleages from surrounding parishes asked the Louisiana Tax Commission to impose rules that would limit property tax rate increases.
But commission members said that even though they regretted the situation, and sympathized, their hands are tied.
They agreed to take the concerns “under advisement” when they crunch numbers and study data to determine whether property has been assessed fairly by the state's assessors.
But when push comes to shove, they don’t have the authority to cap property tax increases.
Nor do they have the power to raise the homestead exemption or suspend their annual audits, any and all of which could bring relief to homeowners caught in the middle.
"Ever since the hurricane, the commission has been very cognizant of the effects that Katrina will have with regard to property values," commission Chairwoman Elizabeth Guglielmo was quoted as saying in a published report.
"We have been very cognizant of the Katrina effect to parishes that sustained damage and parishes in which there's been a ripple effect because of the influx of people."
Guglielmo said the commission doesn’t have the power to approve a five-year “grace period” to wait for the Katrina sales to settle down.
"That is for the Legislature or a constitutional amendment," Guglielmo said.
Gisclair said he believes commissioners when they say their hands are tied, but "at least we (assessors) had our say."