Citizens question tax hikes without public vote

Calcasieu Tax Assessor Wendy Aguillard says she's getting calls from taxpayers wanting to make sure it's legal for various taxing bodies to raise property taxes without a vote of the people. It is if they follow strict rules set forth by the law and pass muster by the legislative auditor.

Aguillard says this is the last opportunity for the taxing districts to "roll forward" their millages to their authorized max millage rate before the next reassessment in 2012.  Aguillard explains, "The districts could have rolled forward any year after the last reassessment. The last reassessment was in 2008, so they could have done it immediately in 2008, or they could have done it in 2009 or 2010. The law allows the districts to do this without going back to the voters for approval."

But she says the law protects voters and taxpayers by making sure the districts inform them of their intentions to roll forward to collect more revenue. She says, "The La Constitution and revised statutes have very stringent requirements that the taxing districts have to follow."

After all documentation is finished it is sent to the Louisiana Legislative Auditor, along with all of the proof that the requirements were met. "If any of the items are not done correctly, the roll forward will fail. The Louisiana Legislative Auditor has to approve the millage documentation/requirements done by each taxing district every year including the roll forward."

Over the last few weeks several public bodies held hearings to increase property taxes without having to go back to voters. It's confusing to voters and even the public bodies.

Turns out Westlake's hearing Monday was for nothing. Tax Assessor Wendy Aguillard says she and the legislative auditor have notified Westlake they were already at their max and cannot roll up.

Those that did roll forward to increase taxes include Sulphur and Iowa along with the Waterworks District #8 of Wards 3 and 8. Some were already at their maximum including the main property tax for Calcasieu School Board, Lake Charles General Alimony Tax and DeQuincy.

Some that did not roll forward are Calcasieu Police Jury, the Sheriff, Vinton and other property taxes for Lake Charles and the School Board.

Aguillard says there's been a lot of confusion from citizens who want to know, "Can they do that?"They want to know if it's legal for the different taxing districts to do without going back to the voters. And it is. They can only "do that" if they follow all the rules set forth in the law and the legislative auditor goes over it all with a fine toothed comb says Aguillard."

"The laws want to make sure that the voters, the taxpayers know what the different districts are doing. They have to advertise it twice-- thirty days before their public hearing, set forth public notice. They have to do it in a bold place in the newspaper, a two by four block and they have to spell out exactly what they're doing, " said Aguillard.

The deadline for all the advertising requirements is July 15, though the roll forwards are not official until the legislative auditor verifies that all the requirements have been met. Aguillard explains, "The Louisiana Legislative Auditor has to go over all of their documentation and make sure that they have followed all of the requirements, and then has to approve it. And if they haven't followed all of the requirements, the roll forward will fail."

She says the roll forwards for this year should be complete within the next couple of weeks.

There are some seventy property taxes on the books in Calcasieu Parish for services ranging from fire protection to recreation--too many to list here.

For more information on the rules for increasing property taxes without a public vote click here.

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