KIRAN: Did a local assessor value homes based on whether he liked you?

KIRAN: Legislative Auditor launches investigation into Livingston tax assessor

WAFB originally reported that John Blount, who lives in the Greystone neighborhood, was a major campaign contributor to Jeff Taylor. While Blount did contribute to Taylor’s campaign, many of the contributions attributed to him in our report were actually made by others with the same name. WAFB regrets this error.

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Owning a home is the American dream. That comes with plenty of responsibilities, including cutting the grass, paying bills, and paying taxes on the home and lot every year. It’s a price homeowners pay to cash in on your investment.

Every parish in Louisiana has a tax assessor, so 64 in total. You vote one in every four years.

“The assessor would go out and value that property and come up with a fair market value every four years,” said Louisiana Tax Commission Chairman Lawrence Chehardy, who served as the tax assessor in Jefferson Parish for 34 years.

Louisiana Tax Commission Chairman Lawrence Chehardy
Louisiana Tax Commission Chairman Lawrence Chehardy (Source: WAFB)

At the end of every year, homeowners receive a property tax. The tax is based on the assessed value of your home and lot, and whether or not you get to subtract $75,000 for a homestead exemption. But a former employee who worked for Livingston Parish Tax Assessor Jeff Taylor claims some homeowners in that parish did not always end up paying what they should.

KIRAN: Can you give me any examples of things that you saw while you were there?

INTERVIEW: Favors done for friends and how certain taxpayers got more special treatment than others.

KIRAN: What do you mean by favors done for friends?

INTERVIEW: If they were his friends, he would do a lot more to help them in ways that really were not ethical or even legal.

KIRAN: Like what?

INTERVIEW: Just changing assessments, lowering the assessed value of properties to lower their taxes.

Taylor has been the Livingston Parish tax assessor since 2000. The former employee, whose identity the 9News Investigators are protecting, said they left on their own because of the things they witnessed.

INTERVIEW: I know that there were several occasions where people that were giving to the campaign fund were taken care of.

KIRAN: How so?

INTERVIEW: Their assessments were lowered. They were essentially going to end up paying fewer property taxes as long as they were giving to that campaign fund. They were doing him a favor and he was going to do them one as well.

KIRAN: Are you selling assessments in exchange for campaign contributions?

TAYLOR: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. All of that is online. You can see all my campaign donations. You can see the assessments.

So the 9News Investigators did just that. A few companies and names stood out.

“Plantation Management” donated the maximum allowed with $2,500 in February 2018 and March 2013, $1000 in 2011 and another $2,500 in 2009. That company comes back to a “Gene Quirk.” Gene Quirk personally donated $2,500 in 2015.

Kiran Chawla interviewing Jeff Taylor for a 9News Investigation.
Kiran Chawla interviewing Jeff Taylor for a 9News Investigation. (Source: WAFB)

The Quirks’ home is on Vincent Road in Denham Springs. It’s a gated property on nearly 26 acres with a large portion of the property deemed for agricultural and timberland purposes. Going back to 2002, Jeff Taylor’s office had assessed the Quirks’ home at $604,400. But in the past 17 years, that assessment has not changed even a penny.

KIRAN: Is that a favor to them?

TAYLOR: No, it’s just what it is.

After this interview, Taylor called the 9News Investigators to say he found that information on the Quirks home was not put in correctly and that’s why the assessment has not changed in 17 years. He said that will be fixed before homes are re-assessed next year.

“It certainly would be unusual I would think that the property value has not gone up in 17 years,” Chehardy said.

In the Greystone neighborhood in Denham Springs, of the 18 homes along Prairie Dunes and Somerset Hills courts, all the lots are assessed at $80,000 except for one. One lot is $20,000 lower at $60,000. That home comes back to John Blount.
In the Greystone neighborhood in Denham Springs, of the 18 homes along Prairie Dunes and Somerset Hills courts, all the lots are assessed at $80,000 except for one. One lot is $20,000 lower at $60,000. That home comes back to John Blount. (Source: WAFB)

The 9News Investigators found campaign contributions that track back to Blount, either directly by his name or through companies he’s associated with.

Taylor said the information on Blount’s assessment was input into the computers incorrectly and, since the 9News Investigators pointed out the error, it’s now been corrected. Taylor pointed out another home owned by Blount in the same neighborhood has been correctly assessed all along.

TAYLOR: They should all be at $80,000.

KIRAN: But do you see where the conflict comes in that he’s a campaign contributor and he’s $20,000 less than everybody else on his street?

TAYLOR: Yeah, I can absolutely see where you would think that but this is just an office error we made because I have no idea why it was reduced to $60,000. It should be $80,000.

“It would be problematic if you can tie an assessed value with a campaign contribution,” Chehardy said.

When it comes to homestead exemptions, it can only apply to a home that you own and occupy. Married couples combined can only have one homestead.

But the 9News Investigators found that was not the case for the former Livingston Assistant District Attorney David Guidry and his wife Carlyn.

KIRAN: Who is David Guidry?

TAYLOR: David Guidry was my attorney up until last year.

The 9News Investigators found that David Guidry had a home on Chaperral Dr. only in his name and his wife has another home on Lake Park Dr. in her name. For six years, they were claiming homestead exemptions on both houses.
The 9News Investigators found that David Guidry had a home on Chaperral Dr. only in his name and his wife has another home on Lake Park Dr. in her name. For six years, they were claiming homestead exemptions on both houses. (Source: WAFB)

TAYLOR: I was not aware of a double homestead from 2010 to 2016.

KIRAN: Was this possibly a favor to your attorney?

TAYLOR: Absolutely not.

Taylor said because multiple homestead exemptions have become a national problem, his office earlier this year contracted with a company to uncover people claiming more than one.

The assessor said that the company has found 1,200 cases of multiple homesteads in Livingston Parish going back to 2017.

KIRAN: They’ve got double homesteads.

TAYLOR: No, they don’t have double homesteads.

KIRAN: Ok, the husband has one homestead. The wife has one homestead.

TAYLOR: This is where the Assessure program comes into play. You had it in two different names. Our computer system did not pick up on that and that’s why I went and hired the company Assessure to make sure we don’t have double homesteads.

KIRAN: Did you ever tell your employees to issue double homesteads for certain people?

TAYLOR: No, we can’t do that.

“There were definitely a lot of situations where to do someone a favor, things were put into double homestead,” Taylor’s former employee said.

KIRAN: Who told you to give somebody two homestead exceptions?

INTERVIEW: If it wasn’t Jeff himself, it would have been one of his supervisors.

KIRAN: So the assessor himself was telling you to give people two homestead exceptions?

INTERVIEW: He would tell all the people whether it was to give two homestead exceptions or freeze forms.

The former employee claims Taylor made it well known he could personally decrease or increase assessments on any properties in Livingston Parish.

“I can recall a specific example where someone made Jeff upset, angry and Jeff increased their assessment so that he would be sucking it to them,” the former employee said. “Then several weeks later, they were no longer on bad terms. He would lower their assessment back down after they did whatever he wanted them to do. He was using his power for gain, personal gain.”

KIRAN: So you have never lowered anything for any friends?

TAYLOR: No.

KIRAN: What about for any campaign contributors?

TAYLOR: No.

KIRAN: What about have you increased for people you have gotten into an argument with?

TAYLOR: Not as far as I know.

But what about James Nolan? He owns Parish Ready Mix in Livingston Parish, a concrete pouring company.

KIRAN: How do you know them?

TAYLOR: Mr. James was the gentleman that we used to pour our slab for our home that we built in 2006.

Taylor and Parish Ready Mix got into a dispute about the work done at the Taylor home. The Taylors ended up suing over it.

At that time, the personal home of the concrete owners, the Nolans on Arlene Drive in Livingston Parish, was assessed at $64,000.

But two years later, when re-assessment happened, the value on the Nolan home nearly tripled to $174,900. That means his property taxes also shot up.

But Taylor pointed out the assessment on the home next door to the Nolans also went up from $87,200 to $120,600. That’s only a 38 percent increase compared to the Nolans 173 percent hike.

Parish Ready Mix owners' home increased in assessment by 173% compared to their neighbors 38% increase.
Parish Ready Mix owners' home increased in assessment by 173% compared to their neighbors 38% increase. (Source: WAFB)

“At $60,000, his assessment was wrong. His house should have been on at $170,000 or whatever it was we showed and in the reassessment in 2008, we put it where it was supposed to be. That was not retaliation,” said Taylor.

Taylor and the concrete company settled their lawsuit out of court. The owners of the concrete company, in their response to the lawsuit, the Nolans claimed, “Jeffrey Taylor directed employees of the Livingston Parish Tax Assessor’s office to visit and reassess properties.....for the threatened purposes of increasing future property taxes.”

“That wasn’t us. I didn’t do that. Now they may say that in their lawsuit but that’s not what happened,” Taylor said.

Taylor said he has done a great job in his 19 years as assessor, including helping to build a statewide online computer database for property taxes.

“We are human and we make errors and we don’t always get everything right but we fight to get it right,” Taylor said.

After showing the tax commission’s chairman everything the 9News Investigators dug up, “I would be very disappointed and surprised if an assessor were to be doing that,” Chehardy said. “Assessors don’t, shouldn’t be in the business of selling assessments for campaign contributions.”

“It’s a pretty common, well-known thing that a lot of people are paying a lot less than they should be just because of who they know. It’s kind of that good ole’ boy system everybody talks about,” Taylor’s former employee said.

KIRAN: Have you abused your position or your office?

TAYLOR: Absolutely not. If my mother is having to pay her taxes, I’m going to make sure that everyone is paying their taxes. No one is getting special treatment.

The 9News Investigators did reach out to the people mentioned in the report. David Guidry said he was not aware of the double homesteads on their homes.

“I’ve paid my taxes in Greystone since I’ve moved there in 2008," John Blount said. "There was never a request for any help on any tax bill. If a change happened, I assume it was an error and I’ll assume it’ll get corrected but it was a net of $181 in that lot assessment.”

The Nolans with Parish Ready Mix did not want to comment and a representative for the Quirks never called back.

Copyright 2019 WAFB. All rights reserved.