JEFFERSON PARISH, La. - Is it a tax increase or a renewal? That's the question many Jefferson Parish residents are asking about two property tax issues on Saturday's ballot. Especially after many voters received a letter from J.P. Assessor Thomas Capella and a conflicting “voter information” card from the parish.
On a rainy Tuesday in Jefferson Parish, it was hard to think about any other kind of water. But two tax issues for water and sewerage have most of the parish's voters doing just that.
“It is not an increase,” said Jefferson Parish Chief Operating Officer Christopher Cox.
Or is it? A flyer from the parish said the two tax issues, one for water, the other for sewerage, are simply renewals of an existing tax that has been in place for the past 10 years.
But the letter from Capella said it’s an increase because the millage rate would go up if the Jefferson Parish Council does nothing, and the amount of taxes collected in Jefferson would correspondingly increase.
The J.P. administration said it's not an increase, but the flyer said the current tax rate is a little more than $12 on a $100,000 home and that would continue if the renewal is passed. However, this year property owners paid a little more than $8 on a $100,000 home, after the council rolled back the millage rate to compensate for increases in property tax assessments.
Five mills is the maximum that the parish can charge right now, and that is also the maximum for both the water and the sewerage renewals on the ballot. But again, every year, the parish council has rolled it back to compensate for higher property assessments.
Jefferson Parish Spokeswoman Kriss Fortunato said the parish council sets the assessment rate every year. They can set it up to the millage maximum that is set by voters in the referendum.
When asked if property taxes would go up in 2014 if the parish council did not act to change the millage rate, Cox said, “If they did not roll back there would be an increase, however, that is not the intent.”
“I don't know the answer legally, but we do know that this is a renewal and the taxes have been authorized up to the renewal level for the last 10, 20 years,” said WWL-TV political analyst Clancy DuBos.
The same goes for sewerage rates. Five mills is once again the maximum the council could charge. But the Parish Council has consistently rolled it back.
Capella wouldn't comment on the issue outside of what’s contained in his letter to property owners. He would only say he wanted to inform the voters about tax issues with his letter.
“There's a fear that as they vote no on the tolls, they'll just vote no down the line and if these renewals fail, there's gonna be some genuine pain in many parts of Jefferson Parish,” DuBos said.
Voters will have to make the call on Saturday.
The taxes fund water and waste water capital projects including maintenance to Jefferson Parish's waste water treatment plant, among other things.