Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Oppressed millionaires try to obstruct property tax reform 

Ah, yes. The silk-stocking crowd living in their Uptown mansions on a private street are suddenly concerned about the "process" of property assessments. Now that one of their dutiful cronies doesn't control the District 6 office, and now that their houses are finally assessed at something close to Fair Market Value, and now (after being subsidized by other homeowners for decades) that they have to pay their fair share of taxes to a city in desperate need of revenue... they are pitching a fit and filing obstructive lawsuits!

Big "ups" to the T-P's Gordon Russell for writing an excellent, well-researched article describing their latest effort to slow progress.

With a few exceptions, I'm disappointed to say that the Nola blogosphere has been only slightly less alarmist, hysterical, oppositional, and intentionally misleading about efforts to reform property assessments than the rich Uptown vampires who had gamed the city's tax system for generations on end.

Update: To clarify, the links in the final sentence are not an exhaustive survey of the nolablogosphere on this issue. Also, the "intentionally misleading" link refers to commenter el stevo, not Jeffrey. Also, Huck Upchuck from the "oppositional" link above doesn't like the way that final sentence reads and wants others to understand that he doesn't oppose reform efforts in theory, just the "IQ" reform effort. (Please read the comments for more discussion.)

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16 comments DiggIt!


Worth noting Gordon Russel's previous article suggesting a 29% drop in millage based on the latest numbers.

By Anonymous mark c., at 11:52 AM  

So the folks with the most clout get to game the system. Anything new here?

We accepted our new assesment based on the fact that we "asked for it"

Now I am wondering if we should have sent my 82 year old mother in law to sit in the sun and complain about it.

By Anonymous Karen, at 11:55 AM  

Assessments should be accurate. Now that 1 in 13 assessments are wildly inaccurate instead of 8 out of 10, everyone's up in arms.

If our progressive blogosphere would take a fraction of its passion about the "ASSESSMENT APOCALYPSE!!", and use it to pressure the Boards that control the millages, they could achieve extremely desirable long-term property tax results.

By Blogger oyster, at 12:14 PM  

You're right Oyster. This is a major reform. Not only is it fair, but it encourages people to move here and makes some of the city's most powerful residents care more about the schools and government they're suddenly paying for.

The reaction among bloggers has been sad. It's a slightly complicated issue, and I would have hoped that smart bloggers would have approached it with more intelligence than the trolls that populate

By Anonymous Frolic, at 12:39 PM  

Can I blame Cowen for this one? Can I?

By Anonymous ashley, at 12:54 PM  

For the record, I said the re-assessments were ultimately a good thing, and in return I got a cyber-spanking from some dork calling himself Albert Dorkland!

Granted, my reference was en passant and he wasn't responding to that anyway... But come on. Dorkland?

By Anonymous Editor B, at 1:07 PM  

Hey, oyster - I think you misread me. I am not "oppositional" regarding efforts to reform property assessments. I support such efforts. I voted for the consolidation of the New Orleans assessment districts when it was put to a vote the proper way. What I opposed was the IQ method of achieving this goal, which I thought was a cynical and counterproductive one. What it did was elect someone without the experience and knowledge of real estate and property assessment procedures who then had to go ahead and do these things. I'm sure Nancy Marshall is a sincere and well-intentioned public servant; but it shouldn't come as any surprise that people are questioning her ability to do good assessments herself when that is precisely what the IQ ticket was telling people. Remember, Nancy Marshall did not run on her qualifications to do the job.

Like you, I have very little sympathy for the Uptown mansion crowd; but it is unfortunate that they can play off of Nancy Marshall's seeming lack of qualifications in order to challenge and question the kind of job she is doing. What I feared is, essentially, coming to pass. How will Nancy Marshall be able to explain in a court of law that her method for calculating tax assessments is good and fair when she ran a campaign that cynically manipulated voters by encouraging them to elect her as a kind of protest in spite of her lack of qualifications.

There is one point, though, that I imagine we can all agree on, and it is some kind of transparency in how Assessments are done. Such transparency is still sorely lacking, and being transparent about the assessment process (i.e. publishing the formula used to calculate assessments) would go a long way towards clearing up confusion on the subject.

By Blogger Huck, at 1:36 PM  

Cowen, no. But Ashley I think you can blame Cowan. I read about him in the TP.

By Anonymous Frolic, at 1:43 PM  

Huck, when I say you were oppositional, I'm referring to the IQ effort to reform the property assessments. While it is not a perfect reform effort, it was the only one on the table. The perfect is the enemy of the good in this case.

Marshall can say this: "experienced" or not, her office's assessments are exponentially more accurate than her predecessor, and her predecessor's predecessor, and her predecessor's predecessor... all of whom had a "lifetime" of experience in assessments.

By Blogger oyster, at 1:49 PM  

oyster - Thanks for the clarification, but that's not how your piece reads. It doesn't mention the IQ method of reform as opposed to other methods of reform. Maybe I'm being defensive, but your original post seems to paint some of us as being almost apologists for the atrocious system of yesteryear. That couldn't be further from the truth in my case.

As to the accuracy of Marshall's assessments relative to the work of other assessors currently (as opposed to assessments in prior times), I can't say that I have much confidence in your assertion. I took a look-see at the recent assessments of my neighborhood and there are still very gross inequities there. And it also seems as if many of those who could complain about their new assessments to Marshall got some kind of relief just for being a squeaky wheel.

Why couldn't we have had someone whose qualifications for the position were strong AND who was also a reformer?

I still think, though, that a true reformer in the assessor's office would be very transparent about how assessments are calculated and would publish not only their methods for calculating assessments, but would also provide information on how any "adjustments" to assessments are made when people complain about them.

By Blogger Huck, at 2:18 PM  

No link for my own well researched post?

By Blogger mominem, at 3:33 PM  

Mominem: Which one? Feel free to provide the referred to link here, mominem, and I'll update the post.

Also, I've updated the post for additional clarity relating to Huck's concerns.

As for Huck's query "Why couldn't we have had someone whose qualifications for the position were strong AND who was also a reformer?" I would just answer that we had a choice between a corrupt crony and a reformer, and I'll wager that Huck-- and the nolablogosphere have complained MUCH more about the reformer's efforts than they ever did about the corrupt crony.

As for Huck's lack of confidence in my assertion about assessments being vastly more accurate now versus during the Degan/Coman reign, I will challenge him to pick any three block stretch of St Charles and compare the former assessments to the current ones, and see if one isn't vastly more accurate than another.

Or he could read the linked post from my investigation here.

By Blogger oyster, at 4:32 PM  

oyster - Oh, I complained lots about the inequities of the assessments in the 6th district prior to the last election. In part, because I was one of those who was paying taxes on a fairly-assessed property while my neighbors were paying next to nothing. In fact, if millages go down, I stand to actually pay less in taxes than I did before from the recent re-assessment process. So, by one measure, I should be worshipping at the feet of Nancy Marshall.

My beef here is not with the reform effort per se, which I wholeheartedly supported, but with what I saw as the cynicism of the IQ movement and the rush to elect a "reformer" just for the sake of opposing cronyism and not for the sake of having qualified assessors in office.

You're right on one point. On the whole, I would tend to agree that assessments now are much more accurate than before, though one can still find some inexplicable inequities (check out OPBOA's records for 2733 Pine Street, 2725 Pine Street, 2719 Pine Street - my home, and 7231 Broad Place, for example. These are my immediate neighbors on my block.) And it is these inequities that persist which lead me to have not as much confidence as you seem to have.

However, I should note that I was actually improperly mixing two separate things in my comment: (1)comparing Nancy Marshall's current assessments now with the current assessments of her fellow assessors and (2) comparing Nancy Marshall's current assessments with those of her predecessors. You were commenting on the second, and I think you are right, for the most part. But I was also thinking about the first. And because of this, what I also partly meant to convey was that I don't think the accuracy of current assessments is necessarily a product of anything Nancy Marshall is doing or any special skills that she has. Since the Times-Pic ran its series on the subject, all Assessments in all districts have gone up. Although we can't know this for certain, chances are that even Coman would have raised assessments this time around, too, had he been elected to the office. But what this does seem to imply is that Nancy Marshall's district can't be singled out for special consideration in this regard. And you'd probably need to give the other assessors -- even the cronyists -- equal kudos for raising assessments, too.

Now, maybe you'd argue that the IQ movement turned popular opinion in such a way as to pressure the assessors to change their ways. I'll concede that this is possible. But I'd argue rather that it was the Times-Pic's investigative reporting on this subject that turned popular opinion and gave rise to the IQ movement. I still strongly believe that the IQ movement was a cynical and improper way to advocate and carry out needed reform. But just because I didn't support the IQ way doesn't mean I opposed reforming the system.

By Blogger Huck, at 5:57 PM  

Hey, I haven't had to pay property taxes yet, so I was never exposed to any of this. That being said, I've followed what you said and you're right on.

I just was trying to figure out something smarter to say than, "ditto."

By Blogger Clay, at 6:41 AM  

Awesome, I'm intentionally misleading now. Please everyone, don't let me mislead you, intentionally or otherwise. Please feel free to have faith and trust in the folks that run city govt. They've never shown us any reason not too. Right?

By Anonymous el stevo, at 8:10 AM  


Fuck you and your "disapointment". If you read any of my comments on the subject they are all about having faith and trust in the jackasses that run this city who say they are going to roll back millages and keep them there. If they did, that would be fair. Fuck me for not really believing them or trusting them when a financial windfall is staring them in their greedy faces. There was another story in the paper yesterday about the S&WB meeting to discuss rolling the millages back up after the mandated roll back. Yeah, I know the meeting was postponed on that subject and all the city council folks promise not to do it. Well, there's the fucking issue. Will they or won't they. Fair is fine, but what it boils down to is that tax bill we all get and how it is going to fuck with our lives if they don't roll the millage back and keep it there. Then, it won't be fair. Will it?

You seem distrusting of so many aspects of government and politicians in general (something we share) except on this issue.

Fuck the rich assholes on Audobon Place. I agree with you, I ain't one of them. John Georges is though. Tommy Coleman is his father-in-law by the way.

If my tax bill is fair when it's all said and done then I am fine with everything, but we won't know about that until sometime in November when they deal with the millage. I don't like relying on faith and trust does not come easy to me. In fact, trust has to be earned. I guess I'm a lunatic and an intentional misleader, but the city and its circus of crooks and buffoons has yet to win my trust. I sincerely hope they do come November.

By Anonymous el stevo, at 10:05 AM