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Carlson: How our tax dollars are spent

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For the 2012 Tax Year, Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator published a nifty little chart showing the percentage distribution of property taxes to Caddo Parish governmental agencies. “As Ex-Officio Tax Collector, Sheriff Steve Prator wants you to know where your tax money goes” was the chart’s dead-center sub-title.

By a significant percentage, the Caddo Parish School Board was the recipient of the largest chunk of annual property tax proceeds (54.9 percent), followed by the Caddo Parish Commission (17.7 percent), the Sheriff (9.6 percent), the Library system (6.7 percent), followed by entities such as the Red River Waterway Commission, Assessor, Port, and Biomedical Research Foundation at 6.5 percent, and an number of other parish entities at 4.6 percent.

Marty Carlson
Marty Carlson

Many similarities would be reflected in a such a chart for Bossier Parish, should an enterprising entity care to publish a colorful synopsis of how the property tax revenues are allocated on the east side of the river – and likely in most Louisiana parishes. School boards generally collect the most in property taxes, followed by parish governments, law enforcement districts, and library systems.

From this view, this little chart concept probably should be published by some parish entity at about the time tax notices are mailed by the parish Sheriff, who is also the ex-officio tax collector. And it wouldn’t take much effort to add just a few additional informational facts to the chart concept … taxpayers might appreciate some basic information about the annual property tax collection as they write those checks.

First among them, though, should be a couple of facts, including such that neither the Parish Assessor nor the Sheriff sets the property taxes, nor do these elected parish officials collect the revenues from these taxes. The Assessor and Sheriff do not raise or lower property taxes. The Assessor’s job is to value property pursuant to state law. The Sheriff’s job is to send out tax notices based on the Assessor’s assessments, and collect the tax revenues for distribution to property taxing bodies.

Perhaps the publisher of such information might include that real property is

reassessed every four years, and just incidentally, 2016 is a reassessment year. Probably not necessary info for the chart, but interesting nonetheless, the every-four-year election cycle for parish assessors falls the year before reassessment – instead of after the quadrennial reassessment period. That three year interlude gives property owners a period of time to become acquainted with the valuation method – as opposed to looking for a new assessor every couple of years – who would use the same valuation method as his/her predecessor.

Back to chart relevance — the market determines the value of real property and there’s a method to this valuation; there’s a method to assessing valuation. Assessors don’t just guess on property values, although many would like to believe guessing is the chief formula for computing these values.

Finally, and perhaps most crucial to a concise, informative property tax distribution chart and incorporated among those few very relevant facts about property taxes must be included this little reality: Millages are determined by respective parish citizens.

Voters decide those tax millages. Through those votes, the electorate decides how important a superior law enforcement agency is to a city and parish, how necessary first class library system is to the quality of life of a parish community, the absolute necessity of a premier education system, or a levee district, or a fire district. The list goes on and the reality is evident – we, the folks who live, work and raise families in these communities – determine what it’s worth to pay for in parish and municipal services.

And refining that value on a chart such as the one published in 2012 by Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator might just remind us all, as we’re writing those checks, what we – in the majority – voted in what is important enough to pay for in our city and parish.

Marty Carlson is a columnist for the BPT. She may be reached at martycarlson1218@gmail.com.