Wednesday, December 29, 2010

If you live in Shreveport, you pay almost double the property tax of those in Baton Rouge and Lafayette. By Elliott Stonecipher

As Louisiana marches to next spring’s rendezvous with the “Grim Reaper of Unsustainable Government Spending,” those who argue for higher taxes rather than reduced governmental size and spending are increasingly making their case. Such activity is centered among Democrats in the Legislature, including Senate President Joel Chaisson. What continues to be a particular thorn in the sides of Democrats is the effective legislative rescission two years ago of the Stelly (income) Tax increase.

While this debate intensifies, Louisiana will benefit greatly by a more clear understanding among opinion leaders about the taxes our state’s citizens are now paying. More to the point, opinion leaders who reside in Baton Rouge — especially if they own a home and pay property taxes — may benefit from understanding how relatively low their property taxes are compared to some others. Some of us in Louisiana may be Russell Long’s “fellow behind the tree” when compared to others of us.

Those of us who pay the full list of “Louisiana taxes” —  sales taxes, state income taxes, property taxes, and more — understand that reading our property tax bill each year is often an experience with the clarity and simplicity of reading our telephone bill(s). Like many of you, I recently received my parish property tax notice and found a list of 17 — yes, 17! — different taxes levied on my home. “Tea Party” has a new meaning these days, but knowing how many ways we can be taxed makes it much easier to understand that original Boston soiree of nearly two-and-a-half centuries ago.

As many are aware, Louisiana often shows up in national rankings as a “low” tax state. That has much to do with how relatively many Louisianans have low incomes, and — among homeowners — low home values, driving down the “mean valuation” of homes in Louisiana. If you are not among our low-income households, and you own a home in a high(er)-tax city and parish, your taxes may be “low” if compared to those in New Jersey and New York, but certainly not “low” as compared to those in Baton Rouge or some other Louisiana towns and cities. 

The combination of high sales taxes (the non-partisan Tax Foundation ranks Louisiana’s sales tax rate as fourth highest in America), relatively high property taxes in some cities/parishes, and the state income tax may yield a relatively high total taxation. To illustrate the point, in the accompanying charts I compared property taxes on a mythical $250,000 residence located in my hometown of Shreveport (Caddo) to those in Baton Rouge, Alexandria, Bossier City and Lafayette. These calculations are after subtraction from the assessed value of Louisiana’s $75,000 homestead exemption, an exemption which does not apply to city property taxes. Sales tax rates are also shown.

To this point in our research, my hometown of Shreveport certainly jumps out of the list, not surprisingly to a relative handful of us. (My explanation is best saved for another article, but I will note that Shreveport’s population is 6,000 fewer than in 1980, and Caddo Parish’s is the same as then. Thus, it cannot be said that the extra money has fueled growth.)

As Louisianans grapple for some years to come with issues of unsustainable government spending and sources and rates of taxation, the property tax will continue to be both a promising source of tax revenue for parish and local government, and a tax with a very poor reputation for politicalization and inequity. In any case, all homeowners would be well served by a diligent review of what their property tax rates and levies really are. 

In Louisiana, it may well be that there is a crowd — not a fellow — behind Russell Long’s infamous tree.

Louisiana native Elliott Stonecipher is the owner and president of Evets Management Services Inc. in Shreveport. Following a 30-year career in public opinion polling and geo-demographic analysis, Stonecipher has — since Hurricane Katrina in late 2005 — committed to pro bono work on a range of governmental and political reform endeavors, including reform of Louisiana governmental ethics, U. S. Census processes and procedures, and the Louisiana reapportionment and redistricting process. He is an active public speaker on these and other subjects, and continues to serve as an analyst for local, state and national media sources. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

How Lafayette Parish Compares

SHREVEPORT (8.6% Sales tax)
Shreveport City Property Tax    44.540 mills
Caddo Parish Schools    78.200 mills
All Other Caddo Parish    64.480 mills  

BATON ROUGE (9.0% Sales Tax)
Baton Rouge City Property Tax    13.420 mills
East Baton Rouge Parish Schools    43.450 mills
All Other East Baton Rouge Parish    50.053 mills

ALEXANDRIA (9.0% Sales Tax)
Alexandria City Property Tax    20.230 mills
*Rapides Parish Schools    47.216 mills  
*All Other Rapides Parish    45.364 mills
*The combined parish schools and “all other Rapides Parish” millage is confirmed by the Rapides
assessor to be 92.580 mills; this breakdown between the two is their estimate.

BOSSIER CITY (9.0% Sales Tax)
Bossier City Property Tax    21.690 mills
Bossier Parish Schools    52.260 mills
All Other Bossier Parish    39.840 mills

LAFAYETTE (8.0% Sales Tax)  
Lafayette City Property Tax    17.940 mills
*Lafayette Parish Schools    33.560 mills
(1/4 of the sales tax also funds Lafayette Public Schools)
All Other Lafayette Parish    50.800 mills

The property tax obligation in Lafayette is roughly half that of Shreveport and is much
closer to what residents in Baton Rouge, Bossier City and Alexandria pay.

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