Tax Commission, Assessors wrangle over authority

By William Taylor Potter and Christian Boutwell

BATON ROUGE — Baton Rouge Attorney Brian Eddington and State Tax Commission chairman Lawrence Chehardy entered a heated discussion Wednesday during the Tax Commission’s meeting Wednesday whether local assessors or the commission has the more authentic authority to assess values for property tax purposes.

Neither was persuaded otherwise.

The commission has accepted language changes to its rules for emergencies which outline procedures for reappraisals.

Eddington was representing the Louisiana Assessors’ Association in how and when parish property is appraised. Normally, property is valued no more than once every four years on a date determined by the Tax Commission.

“As a matter of law, and as the Supreme Court has repeatedly stated,” he argue, that the assessors’ determination of value is presumed to be correct,” Eddington said, adding that the commission’s function is one of review, not assessment, and that the tax commission cannot usurp an assessors’ sole authority to assess property for ad valorem taxation purposes.

Eddington said the commission does not possess the legal authority to substitute its opinion over that of the assessor. He said the only time the commission can legally substitute an assessment is if the commission finds the assessor committed an “abuse of discretion.”

Chehardy countered that the commission would only need to include the phrase “abuse of discretion” when making the decision to replace an assessment.  Eddington warned that would prompt a legal action.

“If you can’t find and if you do not find that the assessor’s error was so egregious that it rose to the level of abuse of discretion, this commission does not have the legal authority to substitute its opinion for that of the assessor.”

Chehardy said the parish assessors would likely not want the phrase “abuse of discretion” included every time the commission changes an assessment, as it might be used against them during election season.

“I’ve got to tell you, if I were an assessor, even if the commission disagreed with the value I had by one dollar, the absolute last thing that I would want the commission to say in its decision is that assessor. . . has committed an abuse of discretion. I’m thinking in terms of election time.”

New Orleans and Covington attorney Christian Weiler was scheduled to speak on behalf or Orleans Parish Assessor Erroll Williams and St. Tammany Parish Assessor Louis Fitzmorris following Eddington, but Weiler said he had nothing more to add until they reviewed changes made to the rule.