Erroll Williams faces three challengers in citywide race for New Orleans Assessor
By Jeff Adelson
Source: The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate
October 30, 2021
Three candidates have lined up to challenge longtime Orleans Parish Assessor Erroll Williams in this fall’s election.
Anthony Brown, Carlos J. Hornbrook and Andrew “Low Tax” Gressett each blamed Williams for rising property assessments in the city, which have led to higher taxes for many because tax rates have remained relatively stable.
In some ways, the race comes down to a difference in philosophy between the incumbent and his opponents. Williams argues that the office’s charge is to simply determine the correct value of a property and notes that the consequences of those assessments are up to the City Council and other bodies that set tax rates. But each of his opponents argued against that approach and criticized increases in assessments in recent years.
All four candidates in the race are Democrats.
Early voting in the election starts on Saturday and election day will be Nov. 13. If no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, a runoff will be held on Dec. 11.
Williams, 72, said he understands residents’ frustration with assessment increases and has supported measures to keep them from getting hit with major tax hikes all at once. But he said his job is just to ensure properties are valued correctly and that the current assessments reflect the dramatic rise in real estate prices in New Orleans in recent years.
He noted that despite complaints from residents, his assessments have gotten the signoff of the Louisiana Tax Commission, which reviews the work of assessors. He also said most properties sold after he reassessed them ended up selling for more than he valued them at.
At the same time, Williams said he has always encouraged people to challenge his assessments because there may be aspects of their property — such as interior damage — that cannot be accounted for in the mass appraisals.
“My assessments are in the ballpark of what fair market value is,” Williams said. “They may not be 100% accurate but I can assure you that if my opponents say I’m over-assessing them, they haven’t done their homework.”
Williams has served as the sole assessor for Orleans Parish since the seven offices that covered different parts of the city were combined in 2011. Prior to that, he spent a quarter century as the assessor responsible for the area stretching from Esplanade Avenue through New Orleans East and the Lower 9th Ward.
Williams has also come under fire for blanket assessment decreases he gave to a wide range of businesses last year, due to reductions in their income due to the pandemic. The largest cut went to hotels, which saw a 57% decrease after tourism dried up as the coronavirus surged.
Williams said that too was based on data showing significant decreases and noted that businesses had to provide evidence if they sought to keep reduced values this year. As for residential properties, he noted that sales showed prices continued to increase during the pandemic.
Williams also touted his support for a measure that would phase in assessment increases in New Orleans, capping them at 10% each year. That constitutional amendment will have to be approved by the voters, both in the city and statewide, on next year’s ballot.
In the future, Williams said he’s looking for ways to get a law passed that would keep people from losing their home if they couldn’t pay their taxes due to some hardship such as losing their job.
Erroll G. Williams
- Born in New Orleans, lives in Gentilly.
Graduated Joseph S. Clark High School, B.A. in accounting from Dillard University. MBA from Tulane University.
Sole Orleans Parish Assessor since 2011. Third Municipal District Assessor from 1985 to 2011.
Brown, a 50-year-old electrical contractor, said his chief issue is preventing people from losing their homes if they can’t afford the taxes on their properties. The sales of properties that have fallen behind on taxes are handled by city government, not the Assessor’s Office, but Brown argued Williams should be doing more to be an advocate for New Orleans.
More broadly, Brown argued he believed that homeowners should not have to pay taxes on their primary residences, saying he would take those properties off the tax rolls if asked. That would likely be prohibited by the Louisiana Tax Commission, but Brown said he believed that was in keeping with his view that the U.S. and Louisiana constitutions protect individual rights and not collective rights.
On the other side of the ledger, Brown was critical of the pandemic tax breaks Williams put in place for businesses and said other properties in the city should be taxed but aren’t.
Brown also took pride in his outsider status, noting that he is funding and running his campaign on his own and does not have the backing of outside groups.
“I like being the outsider, I like the fact that I speak what I know to be true and the establishment knowing this is true failed or refused to endorse or back me,” he said. “I love it, because when I ascend to that office the only people I will owe allegiance to is my God and the people of New Orleans.”
- Born in Kingston, Jamaica, lives in New Orleans East.
Graduated high school in Kingston.
Carlos J. Hornbrook
Hornbrook, a 61-year-old financial planner, said as assessor he would focus on encouraging businesses to locate in the city and on advocating for policy changes that would have to be enacted by the City Council or state Legislature.
A centerpiece of those plans would be the establishment of areas where businesses would not have to pay property taxes for five years as long as they stayed in place for another five years. That could help spur development along corridors such as Downman Road in New Orleans East and Gen. DeGaulle Drive in Algiers, he said.
At the same time, he was critical of Williams’ pandemic tax breaks for businesses, arguing they were too generous to hotels and other parts of the hospitality industry. Breaks should have been more focused on restaurants and offices to keep them in business, he argued.
“You see the direction that New Orleans is going in and it’s not good,” Hornbrook said. “If we don’t do anything to turn around New Orleans in the next four years, New Orleans is going to be in serious trouble.”
Hornbrook also said he disagreed with the way Williams handles assessments, noting that he’s represented multiple clients who have successfully appealed and had their property values brought down. Hornbrook said he would use a combination of the various methodologies available to assessors to ensure lower rates, with a particular focus on working with those who would have to raise rents because of tax increases and services such as day cares.
Carlos J. Hornbrook
- Born in Ecuador, lives in the Warehouse District.
Graduated De La Salle High School, BA in history from Louisiana State University, Juris Doctorate from the Southern University Law Center, Masters in Taxation from the University of Florida.
Andrew “Low Tax” Gressett
Gressett, a 66-year-old real estate professional, said the assessment increases under Williams have driven gentrification.
He pointed to reports from the Louisiana Legislative Auditor and the Bureau of Governmental Research arguing the office has engaged in “sales chasing” — setting the value of properties based on recent sales in the area — which can drive up the amount they are valued at.
Gressett also argued against Williams’ pandemic tax break, saying he should have done something for homeowners instead. For residential properties, Gressett said the assessor should be reducing values to take into account the decline of quality of life in New Orleans.
At the same time, Gressett said property owners who have short-term rentals and some other businesses are being treated unfairly when the assessor values them based on the amount of income they produce rather than the value of the land and building itself.
“It’s not that people don’t want to pay taxes but they want it to be fair and equitable, that’s his mindset to collect as much as he can,” he said.
Gressett also said the assessor should be limited to 12 years in office and should not be on the same ballot as the mayor and City Council. That would require a change be made through the Legislature.
Andrew “Low Tax” Gressett
- Born in New Orleans, lives in Uptown.
Graduated Rabouin High School, studied at Loyola, Xavier and Dominican universities.
Real Estate professional
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