As with John Hill, The “Tax Watch” Continues

by Jimmy Couvillion

A number of years ago John Hill was a one-man band called “Tax Watch.”  John, a very well mannered man, used to make the police jury meetings in the courthouse.  John was like the fish man who invested his time to warn the city council about the need to dredge Cross Lake. Most citizens with concerns tried investing their time in government issues felt their words fell on deaf ears and disinterested officials. Today both groups seems to have passed away.

My concern addressed today is that Property taxes in Caddo are continuing to rise and Cross Lake continues to fill up with sand.

Cross Lake

While the lake issue needs support, the higher tax issues can be addressed in the voting booth.  On April 21, this year citizens get a change to make financial decisions for the future. The Library fund is up for renewal and this fund and allocation continues to be managed very well. The Library Fund has limited reserves, and the stewardship is a testament to spending property taxes sparingly for more and better services. The Sheriff plans to get the support of the voters on his reduction of .99 mills on this portion due for renewal.  While it makes no sense to vote “No” for a reduction in property taxes, voters lack the history of assessments by the tax assessor and history of compliance to the State Constitution by taxing authorities each four years.

The Caddo Commission has a renewal of Public Works mills that in total mills were excessive for many a year.  Recently the voters approved a reduction in mills to Public Works and a transfer of these mills to address the deficits in the Juvenile Justice Fund, that today are still millions short. The Parish has enough reserves that without a dime collected for the next two years they could still operate at the same level. Some may know that with all these reserves over 191 million they believe it is wise for property owners to borrow funds, (sell bonds) to complete future capital outlay maintenance, repair projects now, instead of waiting for reoccurring revenues in the future.  This is a way to keep the mills dedicated to pay off debt service.  Bonded debt service is a property tax of 1.75 mills we pay each year.  It’s almost two million dollars that the Administration wants to keep on the books.  It keeps the need for the mills in effect and uses the money to pay off the principal and interest at a higher rate than what they are receiving on the 191 million invested in mainly federal backed securities.   Some 32 million has been given to the Parish from oil and gas bonus and lease money. That to is invested and making small change in interest.  Money sits and yet there is no plan on how to spend such funds to create economic and social improvements.

Here is an accounting of the last ten years of property tax revenues for these three taxing entities Each four years the tax assessor follows the constitutional rule and revaluates property that is taxed to provide services to the people.  To follow the rule, no taxing entity as of the result of revaluation or re-assessment is to receive additional tax revenue from such revaluation of property value. The mills are to be adjusted up or down with decreases in valuation and down when valuations increase, which is the common event. These adjustments are determined by the taxing entity the Sheriff, Assessor and the Parish Commission.

The Sheriff’s mills in 2003 were 13.47 – Today 13.54. Property tax revenue in 2003 was $12,214,243. In 2010, revenue was $18,318,271, an increase of 49%. No reduction in millage was made in 2004 or 2008, the tax assessor revaluation years.

The tax assessor mills totaled 2.37 in this time period and were not changed during the 2004 and 2008 revaluation years and over the same period had an increase of $1,332,172 or an increase of 64 percent over 8 years. No adjustment in millage was recognized in either of these years, just like the Sheriff’s tax.

The Caddo Commission over this period had an increase in property tax revenue of $ 19,904,826. A 56 % increase for the 8 years. The Parish collects a about a 3 mill difference from property owners inside the city limits from those outside. But the mills posted from the Audit for 2003 is 40.4 mills.  The mills after 2003 dropped in 2004 to 36.58 and in 2005 increased to 37.32 and were reduced in 2008 a revaluation year to 35.14, a decrease in mills of 6 %. The property tax revenue that year was an increase of 4% over 2007. The Commission for the 2008 revaluation year actually decreased their mills in accordance with the rules in the State Constitution, more than the increase in property value increases from the tax assessor revaluation.

The excuse for increases in property tax, after a revaluation of parish property, by the tax assessor, is blamed on increases of new construction.  Meaning new property coming on the tax roles from prior year.  The truth is, new property after the deeds are recorded are passed from the Parish Clerk’s Office to the Tax Assessor and placed on the tax rolls to be taxed as soon as possible.  This, therefore, is a common occurrence each year and not to be blamed for higher property tax revenues for local parish government in such revaluation fourth years.  After the year 2005 high, a year that recorded new residential construction of  $157,790,282, it has been down hill ever since.  In the year 2010, $83,208,765 is recorded in US Census records for Caddo Parish, a decrease of residential construction of 47 %.  So, in the years that followed 2005 new residential construction has trended down, but Parish taxing entities are still experiencing property tax increases in revenues.

For those reading this, just compare your own property taxes and you will see that there are unexplainable adjustments one year to another without a tax assessor revaluation. This must be the case for the majority of property owners in Caddo. The property tax revenues continue to climb each year, and the amount of new residential construction, stays on a steady decline. Why at the same time, does the City property taxes stay close to the same each year to the prior year? There was a spike in property tax revenues in 2006, a year that was not a revaluation year. New Construction between 2005 and 2006 dropped by 20 %. So, the increase in tax revenues was not because of increases from new construction.

John Hill, the Tax Watch man was active in 1985, my first meeting at the Caddo Parish Commission.  The Fish man I didn’t meet, but Mayor Glover gave an account from memory as a city councilman about the fish man.  He said, recorded in the minutes, to this present council, that one of the family members of the council, knew when the meeting was about over and their father would be leaving to come home.  The public comments, practicing the 3-minute rule for citizens are last on the agenda. The 3-minute rule is still practiced today at the end of the meetings and you see the effects and worth of  citizen comments and time spent.

Even with this financial short history on property taxes, I still would not change a vote for either the tax assessor or the sheriff.  They continue to serve Caddo Parish well. They all need to pay closer attention to adjusting mills, because taxing in excess only takes money from property owners and such money is removed from providing economic and social benefits to Caddo Parish. Consider the number of times a single dollar bill changes hands; each transfer somebody is better served.

Assume that the Caddo Commission says they have been good stewards of taxpayer funds. One reason they point to is the bond rating that is the highest that rating agencies award. It is your decision to make, and I hope you search for other evidence, and I hope the Caddo Commission soon finds a BETTER PLAN for at least some of our reserves, now invested in the Northeast.

I have chosen to pay attention to history. I believe John Hill and the Fish man tried to promote change.  Better technology allows us to reach more people that vote. Please pass this message along!

Jimmy Couvillion
(318) 754-7509