In The News › Report rips assessor system

Mar 23, 2006

Source: Times-Picayune

Report rips assessor system

Report rips assessor system
N.O. arrangement called money drain
Thursday, March 23, 2006
By Jeff Duncan
Staff writer

The Bureau of Governmental Research on Wednesday condemned Orleans Parish’s seven assessor
system and recommended consolidating the offices as a long overdue change.

In a two-page report, the nonprofit watchdog organization said the current system wastes money
and is prone to corruption and inefficiency. It also noted that Orleans is the only parish in
Louisiana with more than one assessor, despite having similar and in some cases smaller
workloads.

“The push to consolidate the seven-assessor system in Orleans Parish . . . will end an Orleansonly
exception to statewide organization of assessors, allow for the redirection of wasted public
dollars and focus public scrutiny on a single administration,” the report said.

The seven-assessor system in Orleans Parish has become a hot target in the wake of Katrina.
In January, the BGR issued a study concluding that post-Hurricane Katrina assessments in
Orleans Parish were wildly inconsistent from district to district. The report, which examined only
unflooded areas, determined that the haphazard pattern of appraisals in the city, already welldocumented,
had only gotten worse since the storm.

In its final report last month, the government efficiency committee of the Bring New Orleans Back
Commission also listed “a uniform, equitable and consolidated” assessor system among its
recommendations for a restructured city government.

Before that, reports by The Times-Picayune and the Louisiana Tax Commission found significant
under-assessments of residential property both before and after Katrina.

Gov. Kathleen Blanco tried to consolidate the offices during a special legislative session last
month, but the bill was shot down by a committee that includes relatives of two Orleans
assessors.

In a post-Katrina effort to change the system, a slate of seven candidates qualified to run for each
of the assessor positions on a platform to forgo their combined annual salaries and expenses to
hire a private professional appraisal firm to assess property.

The “I.Q. for I Quit” ticket, however, sustained setbacks in the past two weeks when judges ruled
that two of the candidates could not list “I.Q.” as a nickname on the April 22 ballot because it
constituted a campaign slogan.

The bureau lists several reasons why it believes consolidation is needed:

— The multiplicity inherently wastes money. The report estimated taxpayers could save more than
$560,000 by shrinking the office from seven to one. “Basically, New Orleanians are paying for
seven CEOs when one would do,” the report said.

— The current system is rife with corruption and unprofessional practices. What the BGR
describes as “an overly cozy relationship between assessors and their constituents, combined
with unprofessional practices,” has created inequitable assessments and exerts upward pressure
on millage rates.

— The district structure lacks rationale. For example, the 4th District has 6,710 taxpayers
compared to 71,812 in the 3rd District. “The system of seven assessors appears to be nothing
more than a historical accident,” the report said.

— The multiplicity cannot be explained by workload. The bureau points out that the total number of
parcels handled by Orleans’ seven assessors is less than the number handled by one assessor in
Jefferson Parish and one in East Baton Rouge Parish.

“It is important to note, however, that reducing the number of elected assessors from seven to one
is not guaranteed to solve New Orleans’ assessment woes,” the report added. “A new
professionalism, focused on ensuring accurate and fair assessments, will be necessary to make
the reorganization meaningful.”
. . . . . . .
Jeff Duncan can be reached at jduncan@timespicayune.com or (504) 826-3452.

Mar 23, 2006

Source: Times-Picayune

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