I-Team: Sheriff Gautreaux wants percentage of your tax dollars

Published: Jan. 14, 2012 at 3:24 AM CST|Updated: Jan. 14, 2012 at 3:40 AM CST
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BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A map of East Baton Rouge Parish with shaded parts shows the nearly 11,000 properties that fall under the consolidated road lighting district.

A four mill tax is levied on properties that are not covered by the parish or city to provide street and road lights.

In a letter sent by East Baton Rouge Sheriff Sid Gautreaux's office to EBR Tax Assessor Brian Wilson's office, it states "By law, the sheriff can charge an amount equal to 5% of the amount of the service charge collected from property owners. This 5% collection charge is in addition to the service charge collected."

It went on to say, "...the sheriff is keeping that 5% as his commission."

"It's something brand-new.  We've never put a commission on our tax roll before. We've had different sort of fees before - crime fees, fire fees," said Wilson.

But since 2002, when Wilson became EBR tax assessor, he's never seen a sheriff commission a tax.

The email goes on to say, "If the taxing bills for 2011 were not sent out to reflect this additional 5% commission, can you please review the process so that the taxing bills for 2012 reflect this 5% commission charge."

If a home is valued around $200,000, after you subtract a homestead exemption and figure out the 4 millage tax, the sheriff is looking at making about $2.50 off that property.

11,000 properties could potentially pay this tax, meaning the sheriff could end up with thousands of dollars in commission just from this tax alone every year.

"Obviously he has the authority to do it, and he's trying to get some funding for his office. Seems like, so I guess he's going through those avenues to do that," said Wilson.

Attorney Jill Craft is representing the Livingston parish Council on Aging in a lawsuit against Livingston Sheriff Willie Graves with a similar matter. In 2004, Sheriff Graves started taking a 12% commission from the Parish Council on Aging. To date, Craft said Graves has taken $400,000 from the council.

"When we filed our briefs in the 1st circuit, only the East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff submitted what's called an amicus brief, or a friend of the court brief, in support of the sheriff in Livingston," said Craft.

Craft won her case in district court, but the appeals court overturned the ruling.

"If the ruling stands, it means every sheriff in this state can go back and charge varying percentages of commission on every single tax put on the books since 1978," said Craft.

Sheriff Gautreaux was not available for comment, but his office issued a statement: "The email you obtained was an email sent internally within our agency by our attorney to our tax office. The purpose was to gather information to explore all financial options. No decisions have been made either way in regards to this matter. The purpose was strictly to gather information."

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