New Orleans Property Taxes Rise
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Louisiana homeowners rushed to beat a midnight deadline last night. They are seeking compensation for damage done to their homes by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Just last week, a program called Road Home announced a deadline for new applications. So people are scrambling for their share of six and a half billion dollars in federal money. Homeowners face another sort of reckoning in New Orleans today. The city puts out its new property assessments.
INSKEEP: As with homeowners everywhere, the official value of your house influences how much you pay in taxes. And for many New Orleans residents that number is climbing.
We called Nancy Marshall, a tax assessor for a portion of New Orleans. Welcome to the program.
Ms. NANCY MARSHALL (Tax Assessor): Thank you.
INSKEEP: Are you a popular person today?
Ms. MARSHALL: Probably not, but I am in some quarters. And the people that I'm popular with are the people who have bought property recently in New Orleans and who have been paying the lion's share of the taxes. And so really what today is, is the day that we actually have equitable assessments among the residents of Orleans Parish...
INSKEEP: Let's make sure we explain this. People who bought new in recent times, their taxes went up right away. But if you stayed in the same house for 30 years, your taxes have been pretty low for 30 years.
Ms. MARSHALL: That's exactly right. It's not that we're all going to be paying the same taxes. Obviously, someone who lives in a mansion shouldn't be paying the same thing as someone who lives in what we locally call a shotgun house.
INSKEEP: Well, let me ask about this. I know you're trying to be fair. But is part of what's happening here the simple fact that New Orleans has fewer residents than it had before, and so you've simply got to get more money out of fewer people to keep the city running?
Ms. MARSHALL: No. That actually isn't true. And that's why I think that ultimately this is going to be a really good thing for the city. It should be a revenue neutral proposition. The city needs a certain amount of dollars to run itself. And it's all a question of how that - where the dollars come from. And what's happened in the past is that people who have lived here for 30 years are paying much less than their fair share based on the value of their homes than people who have bought more recently.
Literally in New Orleans you can have three Victorian houses side by side, built by the same builder in the same year, exactly the same, and if somebody bought the house 30 years ago they're going to be taxed based on a $100,000 assessment. If they bought it 10 years ago, that same house next door to it might be 200,000. And then if they bought it two years ago, it might be 600,000. So what that does is deter people who perhaps have been in flooded areas of the city from moving into the city. It deters newcomers from coming to the city. And so it's very important to have this fairly done. It's been a source of contention forever.
INSKEEP: Although I suppose one complaint I'm sure you're going to be hearing is that longtime residents, who may be older now, may be on fixed incomes, who came back after the storm, are suddenly going to be faced with a much higher tax bill.
Ms. MARSHALL: Well, there are all kinds of exceptions for that. If you are over the age of 65 and you make an income of less than $60,498, you can have your assessment frozen. If you are disabled, you can have your assessment frozen. You know, there are other categories like that that protect you if you have some reason why you cannot make the income that would pay your taxes. But you know, in New Orleans we really have never paid historically high taxes. When I know what people pay for property taxes elsewhere, it's kind of shocking.
INSKEEP: Give me an idea what you're talking about.
Ms. MARSHALL: Well, I'll give you an example of myself. I live in a beautiful 1880 historic house, a Center Hall cottage. It has five bedrooms, five baths, a swimming pool. And I reassessed myself from $215,000. When I became the assessor I raised my assessment to $600,000, which is what I think the house would sell for. That computes, when you add in my homestead exemption, to about a $9,000 year tax.
INSKEEP: Tax assessors assess their own houses.
Ms. MARSHALL: Well, that's right. Isn't that amazing? But fortunately the Louisiana Tax Commission actually checked it. Okay? That wasn't always the case, however.
INSKEEP: I'm just thinking - I mean, forgive me. I don't want to play on stereotypes. But I mean it's New Orleans, and people are doing their own assessments. I'm just wondering if over the years historically there's been a little bit of creativity in whose property taxes are high and whose property taxes are low.
Ms. MARSHALL: I think there totally has been. Okay? I think this is what we're trying to remedy in this particular situation, and one of the great things that's happened in the last two years, and this is one of the things that our mayor did do, was make sure that you could go online and see everybody's tax assessments. Prior to two years ago, you couldn't do that. And I think one of the reasons this reform has succeeded is because people now can look at what their neighbors are paying and realize for the very same house, you know, their neighbors might be paying one-sixth of the taxes they're paying.
INSKEEP: So longtime residents might be facing a blow today. But your argument would be that at least it'll be a little cheaper for somebody new moving in.
Ms. MARSHALL: Absolutely.
INSKEEP: Hey, how is the real estate market doing in New Orleans?
Ms. MARSHALL: Actually, it's doing well. It's an interesting question that is asked of me frequently. The sales, despite people's attempts to get me to lower their assessments, are actually up. And in particular the sales of lower income houses in the 200,000 range are really up because thankfully we have the teachers, the nurses, the people that are so vital to any city are coming back to the city.
INSKEEP: All right. Well, Nancy Marshall is a tax assessor in the city of New Orleans, where her home value recently went up. Thanks very much.
Ms. MARSHALL: Thank you.
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