In The News › Suit settled over assessor records

Jan 19, 2011

Source: The Times-Picayune

Filed under: Orleans Parish, Taxation & Assessments

Suit settled over assessor records

Watchdog agency called fee exorbitant

Wednesday, January 19, 2011
By Bruce Eggler
The Times-Picayune

The Bureau of Governmental Research has settled the lawsuit it filed against the Orleans Parish Board of Assessors last month for what it said was the assessors’ failure to turn over public records at a reasonable price.

Beginning in March 2010, the nonprofit watchdog group said, it made repeated attempts to obtain a “user-friendly” version of the city’s property tax roll, but the assessors responded by asking unreasonable charges for producing the information, going as high as $12,779.

The bureau said those charges bore no relationship to the actual cost of creating a copy of the tax roll and therefore violated the Louisiana Public Records Act.

The assessors’ website, http://nolaassessor.com, allows visitors to look up individual assessments, but the data are not available in aggregate form.

In a news release Tuesday, BGR said that in order to move forward with the research it wants to do, it settled with the city’s new single assessor, Erroll Williams, “on terms acceptable to the organization.” It said it agreed to pay $1,343, and the assessor agreed to pay BGR’s court costs.

Williams, formerly the 3rd District assessor, became the city’s first citywide assessor on Jan. 1.

“The price BGR has agreed to pay still exceeds the actual cost of producing the records, but it’s time to move forward,” said Scott Willis, BGR’s chairman. “The settlement allows BGR to proceed in a timely manner with important research on the local tax base.”

The former board of assessors released a statement in December saying the bureau was offered “access to all records in PDF form for a flat programming fee of $500. The records cover more than 161,000 properties in Orleans Parish. Subsequent to this offer, BGR asked the board to provide a customized, searchable database for ownership, property description and assessment information only.” The board said the fee for that normally would have exceeded $12,000, but it “reduced the fee for BGR, which is a nonprofit entity, and requested a reasonable reimbursement of $4,525.”

The watchdog group has long championed more uniform assessments. Various studies have shown significant disparities in assessments across the city. In the wake of a 2004 survey by The Times-Picayune, the seven assessors were directed to reassess all residential property in the city. Mayor Mitch Landrieu last month appointed a Tax Fairness Commission, directing it “to completely and thoroughly analyze” the city’s tax system to make sure it is as fair, broad-based and equitable as possible.

Jan 19, 2011

Source: The Times-Picayune

Filed under: Orleans Parish, Taxation & Assessments

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