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The Cornerstone — Fairness and Equity.

People expect fairness and equity in taxation and rightly so. There is nothing that will upset a taxpayer more than if he or she feels like they are being taxed unfairly. Property taxes are no different. We all benefit from local government services, such as schools, law enforcement, fire districts, libraries, hospitals, lighting, recreation and others, but who pays for them? Very simply, we do. Whether the revenue comes from local sales taxes or property taxes we all share in the costs. Sales taxes are easy to apply fairly, because everyone pays a percentage on each purchase, but the disadvantage is that it is an unpredictable source of revenue because of the ups and downs in the economy. The repayment of debt by local government needs a predictable source of revenue and that’s where property taxes have a strong advantage. The disadvantage is that it is harder to administer fairly because the amount of tax paid is based upon the value of residential, commercial, and industrial properties. The value has to be determined by the assessor of each parish, and the taxes paid are based upon that value. Differences of opinion are not uncommon, but by using good appraisal principals, these problems can be minimized.

The problems occur when good, tried and proven appraisal principals are not used. That’s when fairness and equity are compromised. Some people pay too much, and some don’t pay at all. What’s worse is that those who are paying, are not only paying their share, but that of someone else’s share too.

The following is an example of what I mean:

Ten people go to a restaurant, all ten order exactly the same steak from the menu with all the trimmings, each cost $20. Everyone eats and enjoys his meal; even brags how good it was. When the waiter is about to bring the check, which amounts to $200 (10 steaks at $20 each), five of those people excused themselves to the restroom — but instead sneak out of the restaurant. The waiter brings the check for $200, how much does each of the remaining five have to pay? Each has to pay $40 instead of $20. Right? Those who are still there, have to pay for those who already left. Property taxes work pretty much the same way. All services received from local government cost a fixed amount. For every person that should be paying, but is not, someone else has to pickup the tab.

Please direct questions to the St. James Parish Assessor’s Office.

Updated: 11/23/2011

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