Should the residents who live along the Uptown corridors that have been blocked for years amid the construction of major new drainage canals also be subject to substantial increases in their property taxes this year? Or do the inconveniences they suffer diminish the value of their homes enough to stave off the higher taxes until construction is complete?
Those competing points of view formed the basis for a sometimes-contentious meeting Thursday night between City Councilwoman Susan Guidry, Orleans Parish Assessor Erroll Williams, and a room full of Jefferson Avenue residents.
Many residents around the Uptown drainage construction projects received property-tax notices that showed increases of 40 percent or more, they said, causing a shock because of the conditions the drainage work is causing around their homes.
Williams, however, said that his process for valuing properties is fairly straightforward and based on state law: He looks at the change in property value per square foot of comparable nearby properties that have sold, and applies that to each other home in the neighborhood. If the homeowner then brings evidence of damage, a different appraisal, or other contradictory evidence, then he will evaluate that and adjust the valuation accordingly.
The state is also requiring that all property have a valuation that’s current as of January 2015 by 2018, and that he can’t make exceptions for the areas affected by the canal construction. All he can do is adjust the valuations to take into account actual damage to the home that residents bring him during the appeal process.
“We do understand that Jefferson Avenue and Napoleon are under renovation, and there are damages as a result of that,” Williams said.
Guidry, however, said that the hardships imposed on residents who live directly on the job site should be taken into account. She has met with Williams directly to make that case, she said, to no avail, and is frustrated by his intransigence.
“You should be able to defend a loss of use as a loss of value,” Guidry said.
Musheer Robinson, a resident who convened the meeting, says residents on Jefferson Avenue can’t receive proper city services from the police or fire departments, and others have to walk four or five blocks to get their groceries home.
“It seems those are also contributing factors to value, not just individual property damage,” Robinson said.
Williams countered that if those hardships were really affecting the market value of the homes, they would be reflected in sales prices.
“If those conditions were affecting those values, the values would have gone down,” Williams says.
Octavia Street resident Scott Crabtree said he is unable to park at his home because of construction vehicles parked all around it, and he has to drag his trash cans two blocks for pickup because the garbage trucks can’t get to his home. Meanwhile, the workers throw their trash everywhere and curse the residents who complain, he said — making his home nearly unfit to place on the market anyway.
“I’m worried about day-to-day life,” Crabtree said. “I’m looking to sell my house, but nobody will buy it for half of what you appraised it for.”
Williams said he is bound in his practices by state law, and if his valuations are rejected by the state, the city’s tax money could be withheld as punishment. The City Council has no jurisdiction over his practices, but he noted that the state legislature has created special rules for valuations in extreme circumstances in some previous cases.
Changing the state law could be a possibility, Guidry said after the meeting, and said she would begin studying exceptions the state has made in the past.
“If he can look at a photo of cracked plaster, then he can look at a picture of a driveway that’s inaccessible,” Guidry said. “That is as much a damage to the property as any cracked plaster.”
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