by Elliott Stonecipher
[Caddo Parish voters go to the polls on May 3rd to cast ballots – a second time – on a 1.75-mill property tax for the Caddo Commission. Voters defeated the identical tax proposition last October. This series of articles is written in that context. Early voting on the tax proposition continues through Saturday, April 26th.]
The idea for this article came from a meeting two months ago with Caddo Commission officials, both elected and staff. Soon after, this research began, focusing on a question of growing interest and importance:
how has the Caddo Commission, in a parish with almost no population growth since 1990, gathered in so much revenue – over 15-times population growth – and supercharged its spending – more than 13-times population growth?
This is an initial report on progress in finding answers.
The attached data table provides details. Fund categories therein are the Commission’s, taken directly from its website, “Summary of 2013 Budget,” Page C-1. Baseline data from 1990 has been provided by Commission staff in response to public information requests. Staff has also responded to follow-up requests over these weeks. Other sources of data include the U. S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Louisiana Tax Commission, and Caddo Parish Tax Assessor Charles Henington.
All 1990 data are shown before and after adjustment for inflation. The Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates that the cumulative rate of inflation since 1990 to be +80.8%.
Broadly, these findings are most notable:
… The Commission’s Haynesville Shale windfall is not even in the discussion. Flush with money, a tiny bit under $50,000,000 in discretionary Commission money sits unused, piled atop all other Commission funds detailed here. In total, there are nineteen (19) cash accounts in which the Commission holds over $160,000,000.
… There is no publicly identified, much less explained, need for the Commission to extend or expand basic services. It exclusively governs and provides those services to only 49,349 Caddo residents. Two Caddo municipalities – Shreveport and Vivian – govern and provide basic services for 205,538 of the parish’s 254,887 residents. (Notably, the parish’s population woes continue: between July 1, 2012 and July 1, 2013, Caddo Parish lost -2,204 residents.)
… Some parishwide property taxes are not the Commission’s responsibility, such as millages by and for the sheriff, tax assessor, and, of course, the public school system. An additional 91.29-mills in property taxes are levied by and for those entities. Thus, Caddoans living in Shreveport pay, in total, over 175.00-mills in property taxes, the highest in Louisiana.
… Notwithstanding the Commission’s relatively small footprint, its property taxes are levied parishwide: 34.59-mills to property tax payers in Shreveport and Vivian, and 37.67-mills to those in all other parts of the parish. In an apples-and-apples comparison of parish government property taxes levied on city residents, Bossier City property owners pay 23.03-mills for parish services which cost Shreveport residents 34.59-mills … 33% higher.
… Even without appreciable population growth, the 1990s and 2000s home value surge, ending in the mortgage credit blow-up, yielded our government entities a windfall in new property tax revenue which has stoked extraordinary spending.
In a direct statistical statement, here is what the Commission has done. Even after 1990 amounts are first increased 80.8% for the rate of inflation since then …
… the Commission has gathered-in 42.0% ($23,000,000) more revenue, which has led to a 36.4% ($19,453,000) gusher of spending … with a paltry 2.7% population growth (from 248,253 to 254,887 residents).
No Population Growth … But Tens-of-Thousands New Property Tax Payers
After our late 1980s / early 1990s Oil Bust, a new revenue source, riverboat casino gambling, began collecting boarding fees paid to government, fees which still pay the Commission over $2,000,000 a year. The Commission raised taxes, too: its outside-Shreveport and Vivian sales tax from 1% to 1.5%, raising that revenue source from $3,679,000 in 1990 to $9,900,000 in 2013. There were also small millage increases for Caddo Correctional, the parish health unit, and animal and mosquito control.
The windfall, though, came from the arcane world of property taxes, taxable assessed values, millages and homestead and other exemptions. (SEE data from Louisiana Tax Commission – here and here – confirmed by the Caddo Parish Tax Assessor.)
a. In 1990, Caddo Parish had 59,723 “homesteads” – primary residences, not rented. Of those, 49,453 – 83% – paid no property tax because they were “100% exempt,” that is, the assessed value of their homes was lower than the state’s $75,000 homestead exemption.
b. Between 1990 and 2013, Caddo lost just over 3,000 of those homesteads, down to 56,629, but no one noticed in the huge wave of existing homeowners newly paying property taxes … a lot of property taxes. With the homestead exemption stuck at $75,000 throughout, home costs and values relatively rocketed.
c. Thus, as an example, when the 1940 Broadmoor frame home purchased in 1993 for $60,000 was sold in 2007 for $141,000, the owner and long-time Caddo resident passed from “100% exempt” and became a new payer of property taxes … as did 25,110 other Caddo homeowners. That 83% “100% exempt” group has been cut to 43%.
This huge home value jump swamped the static $75,000 homestead exemption. Had it been indexed to inflation, it would now be $135,600. When the smoke cleared, the inflation-adjusted Total Taxable Assessment of all property in Caddo Parish had risen nearly thirty percent by 2013, to just over $2 billion.
The Commission could have rolled-back millages as new revenue flooded in. Rather, it has become a relative spending machine, aggressively accruing yet more unneeded cash. Evidence is its greed-induced demand – voted for by 11 of 12 Commissioners – for a re-vote of the already-defeated 1.75-mill property tax.
The Shocking Explosion in Spending
Commissioners, as I detailed in my article last month, have dramatically, to the point of embarrassment, raised their own pay and benefits along the way, the tip of their spending iceberg. Overall, the cost of administration of the Commission itself is up 47.9% since 1990. Even after all 1990 amounts have thus and first been plussed by 80.8%, and spending on Capital Projects (non-recurring) removed*, here are agencies / categories with spending now more than 100% higher than in 1990 [1990-2013 Budget Comparison HERE]:
Industrial Development / Economic Development ….. +4,786.2% (not a typo)
Shreve Memorial Library ….. +215.5%
District Attorney ….. +164.9%
Parks & Recreation ….. +145.4%
Juvenile Court / Detention / Probation ….. +116.0%
Solid Waste Disposal ….. +108.9%
Registrar of Voters ….. +107.9%
Only these have lower inflation-adjusted spending than in 1990:
Coroner ….. -37.3%
Parish Health Unit ….. -24.2%
Courthouse Maintenance ….. -2.2%
Simply, the Caddo Parish Commission – and individual Commissioners – are extraordinarily well-fixed with and by our money.
* Categories which are directly impacted by either Capital Project funds or structural budgetary changes since 1990, e.g., Roads & Bridges / Drainage / Public Works and Debt Service, are shown in the data table, but not listed in the above narrative. Readers are encouraged to consult the Commission budget documents, linked above, for more detail. Additional and valuable information is available, too, through the Louisiana Tax Commission, linked above, including archived data back to 1980. The reader may also note that some 1990 categories are now separate in Commission reporting, or have since been included in other categories, e.g., “Sheriff” and “MPC.”
Elliott Stonecipher’s reports and commentaries are written strictly in the public interest, with no compensation of any kind solicited or accepted. Appropriate credit to Mr. Stonecipher in the sharing – unedited only, please – of his work is requested and appreciated.