Should universities be exempt from taxes on pricey property?

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by Scott Satchfield with additional reporting from Marcy Planer Murray / Eyewitness News

wwltv.com

Posted on October 19, 2010 at 6:48 PM

Updated Tuesday, Oct 19 at 6:55 PM

NEW ORLEANS -  Mayor Mitch Landrieu is appointing a commission that will study tax exemptions in the city. The group will take a hard look at non-profits like universities and churches to identify situations where they may be exempt, but shouldn't be.
 
Janet Howard, President and CEO of the Bureau of Governmental Research, or BGR, applauds the move.
 
"You have a question as to how broad the scope for a non-profit exemption should be,” Howard said. “An exemption is basically a subsidy. It allows somebody to keep more money in their pocket that they would otherwise pay if they were paying taxes like everybody else. And so, one of the questions is, what is the community getting in return for that exemption?"
 
Using Orleans Assessor's Office records, conveyance records and real estate listings, Eyewitness News ran a check on several university-owned properties in residential neighborhoods to get an idea of dollar amounts the city is missing out on.
 
The schools are exempt from paying taxes on these properties, according to the assessor’s office.
           
A house at 5744 Sutton Place in Algiers is listed as being owned by Our Lady of Holy Cross College.

Its 2010 assessed value is $330,000, which would generate a little more than $4,600 per year in tax revenue.
 
At 3803 Camp, a property listed as belonging to Xavier University had a 2010 assessment of $875,000.

Taxes on that property would be more than $12,000 a year.
 
The property at 5630 Bancroft Drive, listed as being owned by Dillard University, was assessed at $900,000.

Those taxes would land at more than $12,500 yearly.
 
And at 2 Audubon Place, sits a home that was assessed at more than $5.4 million.

Administrators of the Tulane University Educational Fund are the listed owners.

If taxed, the home would generate more than $75,000 in taxes each year.
 
These are just a handful of examples and the city has not commented on them directly.
 
While BGR hasn't taken a position on eliminating exemptions, Howard says the group is studying the issue.
 
"Are they strictly enforced? Is the information kept that we need? There are all kinds of changes that could be made just to determine whether property is validly off the tax rolls, even under existing rules," Howard said. "We don't have the tax base that we need to provide services, and there are structural changes that need to be made and this is one place where you start taking a look."
 
University officials Eyewitness News talked with said they haven't received any information from the city about any effort to revise property tax laws.
           
Tulane officials responded in an email, writing: “As the city¹s largest private employer, we would hope to be part of any discussion along those lines.”
 
Howard says exemptions are outlined by the state constitution, but again, she believes certain changes in how the exemptions are administered by the assessor's office could help the city collect money on some properties.

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