LIVINGSTON – A much tighter rein on the bottom line is imminent for several parish agencies after a post-flood dip in property tax collections.
The post-flood 2016 Livingston Parish ad valorem tax collection generated $49,985,379 of the reassessed tax roll – or 91.7 percent of the total assessed value on the $54,461,762 million tax roll, according to figures Livingston Parish Sheriff Jason Ard released Monday.
The 91.7 percentage total represents a big drop from the last several years.
“In previous years, we’ve collected upwards of ninety-six percent to as much as ninety-nine percent,” Ard said.
The parish headed to the Feb. 24 deadline with 87.14 percent of the total assessed amount, which led to an overload on parish computer systems which handled online payments, he said.
The deadline passed with a total of 6,032 tax notices going delinquent.
“Normally, this number would be somewhere in the 3,000s,” Ard said.
The number of unpaid tax notices concerned parish officials in the months after the August flood
Whether the parish will collect on the delinquent notices – or how much it can get from adjudication – remains to be seen, Livingston Parish Assessor Jeff Taylor said.
“The problem we have this year is that you may have a house and people walked away from it,” he said. “It may go to the tax sale and someone may pay the taxes on it, but all you’ll have is land.
“People will just gut the house, leave it there,” Taylor said. “They may have a tax of two thousand dollars on it and just decide to tear it down, so all of a sudden it all becomes cost-prohibitive.”
The influx of tax money after a flood-triggered three-month delay may come as welcome relief to some parish agencies, but now department heads face the task of addressing shortfalls.
The spike in sales tax revenues could ease some of the sting for some parish agencies, including the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office and the Livingston Parish Public School System.
The LPSO could come out at least $1 million short from the dip in ad valorem taxes. A spike in sales tax revenue – which has remained consistent since September – could ease some of the sting.
“I’ve been watching the numbers closely,” Ard said. “The one thing for which I’ll forever be grateful is the half-cent sales tax put in place by former Sheriff Odom Graves.”
The law enforcement half-cent sales tax generated $1,088.943 in January, an increase of $30,248 over December’s $1,058.695.
Compared to January 2015 ($866,112), last month was 26 percent higher. For the 2016-17 fiscal year, the tax has brought in $6,657,701, a 30 percent increase over 2015-16’s $5,121,910.
The post-flood spike and the overall growth in commercial development over the decades since Graves presided as sheriff has made the sales tax become a much more important funding source over the years for LPSO, Ard said.
“Back then, it was a half-cent of not much,” he said. “But Livingston Parish has since grown, which is a blessing in this situation when there are so many unknowns.
“We watch every penny,” Ard said. “The August flood took its toll not only on Livingston Parish, but on the Sheriff’s Office. Only time will tell the full impact.”
The jury is still out on how much the Livingston Parish Public School System will lose from the decline in ad valorem tax revenue, but a two-cent sales tax will give some measure of padding for the fall.
The Livingston Parish School Board’s two-cent sales tax collected $4,412,571, an increase of $143,190 from December’s $3,514,245.
January’s collection is 25.56 percent higher than that of January 2016 ($3,514,245).
The seven-month total this fiscal year is $26,873,324, a 29.62 percent increase over $20,732,600 to this point of the 2015-16 fiscal year.
The School Board half-cent sales tax also brought in $961,598, a $16,745 rise from December’s $944,853. January’s total is 26.14 percent higher than the $762,315 collected in January 2016.
The seven-month total this fiscal year is $5,861,064, a 29.6 percent increase over $4,522,255 to this point of the 2015-16 fiscal year.
The outlook is bleaker for other parish agencies.
Other services which fall under 42 taxing districts in Livingston Parish include – among others – fire protection, libraries, the Livingston Parish Health Unit, recreation, drainage, a contribution to the Florida Parishes Juvenile Detention Center and support of the Comite River Diversion Canal.
Revenue from property tax fuels the 11 entities which comprises the Livingston Parish Fire Protection District. Losses will vary from district to district, but each will face a tighter budget in the wake of the shortfall in tax revenue.
In Fire District 5, the cuts will come through the tabling of building projects, along with a delay on purchase of new equipment, Fire Chief Joe Koczrowski said recently.
Services will remain the same, however.
“If you don’t have a heart for this work, you don’t stay – and I’ve been in this business thirty years,” Koczrowski said. “You have to have a heart for this.”
The Livingston Parish Assessor’s Office will lose nearly a half-million dollars, based on the current intake.
The shortfall will force Taylor to put certain upgrades on the backburner.
“The money we’re losing was going to help cover mapping, training for the mapping and pictometry,” he said. “We can’t afford it now.
“Our office isn’t fortunate enough to have a sales tax, something that can help offset losses, so my loss is a true loss – I won’t get anything more,” Taylor said. “If I had been told I was losing $500,000, but would gain $500,000, I wouldn’t be complaining. In fact, I’d be as happy as I could be.”
Taylor fears a full year of post-flood life in Livingston Parish could paint a picture even more dismal for 2018.
Many residents have not yet begun the rebuilding process, and a large number could opt to sell “as is” or abandoning their flood-damaged homes altogether.
Taylor also fears the decline in sales tax could pose sticker shock for many parish agencies.
“The year 2016 may have given me heartburn, but 2017 will be much harder because that will be the year when we could see sales taxes start to decline,” he said.
On the flip side, developers will likely jump at the opportunity to buy and renovate adjudicated hopes.
“Some areas are ripe for picking with developers because you have many areas where nothing is being done,” Taylor said. “The truth of the matter is that what we’re finding is a lot of our values will go up.
“You may have homes valued at $75,000 that are gutted up to the ceiling and they’ll be worth more money because everything will be brand new – electrical wiring, the cabinet, the whole works,” he said. “We’re in a new territory.”