by Elliott Stonecipher
Yes, Caddo Parish voters return to the polls Saturday to vote on the Caddo Commission’s 1.75-mill debt service property tax. Yes, it is the identical proposition voters defeated six months ago. That vote didn’t count with the Commission.
Neither I nor anyone I have found remembers in our history any such refusal to accept a vote of the people. Most public officials have been respectful enough of the voters not to tell them, “We’re going to do this until you people get it right … at a cost to you of $145,000 per election.”
I know. I’ll stop with the reminiscences of more honorable days gone by.
Now, to the point. I urge everyone to use a few spare minutes while going to vote Saturday to ponder a couple of important questions. Please note the following fact as you consider the questions, one putting the Caddo Commission’s remarkable wealth in perspective …
… the Caddo Commission has $96 million more in total fund balances than does the City of Shreveport … while serving one-quarter as many residents. Official, online budget documents show the Commission with just over $165 million in fund balances at last year-end, with $69.5 million for Shreveport city government.
That is a stunning fact. There can be no better single statistic to demonstrate just how much money we – in tax cash and the Haynesville Shale – have handed to the Caddo Commission.
OK, here are those two questions:
1. Now that most of us are aware that Shreveporters pay the highest total property tax in Louisiana (Caddo Commission taxes + City of Shreveport + school board + sheriff + tax assessor, +, +, +), how did we come by this dubious distinction?
2. Why would the Commission be so arrogant as to lose the vote on this millage just last October, then turn around and put it right back up again, at another $145,000 election cost to us? And, by the way, how can they vote themselves a pay package higher than that of their counterparts in Dallas – $43,800 for Caddo Commissioners and $37,600 for Dallas City Council members – when Dallas serves 25-times more residents (1,241,162) than the Caddo Commission (49,349).
Here are the short answers:
1. It is a fact: “we” voted these taxes on “ourselves.” BUT, the “we” and “ourselves” bear definition: those of us who actually pay property taxes are 1-in-3 Caddoans. Those who do not pay them are the other 2-in-3.
2. Caddo Commissioners know property taxes are virtually never – ever – voted down in Caddo. The nasty little secret that 2-of-3 may vote taxes on the other 1 is at work in all of this, so Commissioners and the hundreds working throughout government who directly benefit are hard at work to turnout the 2-of-3.
The Commission’s risk for its cynicism and absence of basic fairness rests in a simple point: who is to say those not paying property taxes won’t join with those who do pay them to stop the tax, tax, tax / spend, spend, spend which is certainly – certainly – cutting Shreveport and Caddo off from an economically healthy future with real economic growth?
(Related and important facts underlying these points are included below the dotted line.)
In the wake of their defeat at the polls last October, both on their term-limits expansion and the subject property tax vote, the Commission – in retribution, according to witnesses – voted to give themselves huge chunks more public money: their total compensation come January 1, 2016 will be $43,800 per year for those who take all available amounts. With their salaries already at the maximum allowed under state law, they gave themselves other goodies: lucrative travel benefits, health care, retirement, etc.
Therefore, as I explained in a recent article, we will pay these part-time elected officials on the Caddo Commission …
… $19,368 more annually than the $24,432 average Caddoan earns in a year, and
… $10,800 more than the $33,000 we pay a new Shreveport police officer.
For direct comparison to other city or parish legislatures, here are a few, each one of which – and there are hundreds more – makes our Commission look even more greedy and abusive of its power to raise its pay without voter approval. Note, again, as you read … the Commission serves the 49,349 Caddo residents not served by city governments in Shreveport and Vivian:
East Baton Rouge (city / parish government) … population 445,227 … $21,600 salary and car allowance combined
Dallas, Texas … 1,241,162 population … $37,600 … voters must approve
Ft. Worth, Texas … 777,992 population … $25,000
San Antonio, Texas … 1,382,591 population … $1,400 per year (this is not a typo)
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma … 599,199 population … $12,000.
The bottom-line from these many weeks of research is this: the Caddo Commission is afloat in taxpayer money, benefiting from a static population which requires no significant expansion of basic services to those it governs, plus windfalls of tax revenue increases and Haynesville Shale money. We still await any proof of commensurate benefit to taxpayers for the richness we have bestowed.
The Commission has for years been taxing and spending without any structural growth in our market (population). In other words, taxing and spending merely to grow government … to grow the Commission’s own political fiefdom, notably including monies voted by Commissioners to enrich themselves.
Growing government for its own sake has a solid historical record. Solidly disastrous.
We in Caddo Parish are much closer to that end than all but a few of us are ready to admit.
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1. Since 1990, when the Oil Bust had and was continuing to chase many people away from here – many of whom were property tax payers – the property taxes of Shreveporters – 80% of the Caddo population – have gone up a whopping 44.3%, from 118.16-mills to 170.44-mills. (In my Shreveport neighborhood, and several others, it is 175.09-mills). These taxes are 33% higher than Bossier City residents pay.
a. That 44.3% increase in property taxes came at the same time home values rocketed higher, while the Homestead Exemption – the amount of our homes’ assessed values which are protected from such taxation – stayed at $75,000. (Had it been indexed to inflation, it would now be $135,600.) Thus we continuously paid higher and higher property tax rates on more and more of our home’s assessed value.
2. The numbers on who pays these property taxes are direct: the Louisiana Tax Commission, using local tax assessor data, reports that 32,287 homeowners in Caddo Parish, almost exactly one-third – 32.9% – of the U. S. Census Bureau-reported 98,284 total households – pay property taxes.* The other 2-of-3 are legally able to vote property taxes on the 1-of-3.
* The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey data tells us there are 98,284 households in Caddo Parish. From its station, the Louisiana Tax Commission 2013 Annual Report (Table No. 44, Page 40), tells us there are 56,629 “homesteads,” in Caddo, with 24,342 of those “100% exempt” from property taxes because the assessed value of their home is below Louisiana’s $75,000 homestead exemption. So, of the 98,284 households, 56,629 own or are buying their homes, and 41,655 are in rented or otherwise non-owner occupied homes. Among the 56,629 homeowners, 24,342 are exempt from property taxes, leaving 32,287 property tax-paying homesteads.
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.