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|Hargrove: Property owners eligible for tax relief in wake of disaster|
Property owners who incurred wind damage and flooding from Hurricane Gustav can have their property reassessed and even request deferment of taxes, according to Paul Hargrove.
Hargrove, of West Monroe, is a member of the Louisiana Tax Commission. He said state law allows property owners those options.
The state constitution requires tax assessors every four years to reassess property in their parishes.
"We're right in the middle of reassessment, and then the storm came," Hargrove said. "About the time the storm came, the assessors were closing their books, getting ready to certify their rolls."
"Taxes are due Dec. 31, and people need to know about this and prepare themselves to act quickly so they can get damage adjustments, and, if necessary, get deferments on the payment of their taxes," Hargrove said.
Hargrove recently discovered the provisions in state law that allow property owners who suffered damage from a declared disaster the options of obtaining a reassessment and a deferment in paying taxes. At the time, he was reviewing other property tax matters when he stumbled across these provisions.
"I found when your home is flooded, assessors shall reassess the land and the property and take into consideration the damage that's caused to the property," Hargrove explained. '
"I think it's important for people to know about this," Hargrove continued. "Gustav was something that impacted our entire state, and it certainly affected our region (northeast Louisiana) more than Katrina and Rita. I'm not sure that folks know this relief is available to them, and I want to make sure they do know. It's not right and it's not fair to pay taxes on something that you no longer have, or for something that no longer has the kind of value it once had."
According to state law, assessors are required to reassess all "lands or property, including buildings, structures, or personal property that are destroyed, uninhabitable, or non-operational due to a disaster or emergency declared by the governor."
Following hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, the state lawmakers approved legislation that allows for property owners who incurred damaged or destroyed property from a disaster or emergency declared by the governor the option to "file an application for deferment of payment of taxes."
The Louisiana Tax Commission can provide an affidavit for taxpayers to sign. The LTC provides the affidavit on its web site at www.latax.state.la.us.
"If you live in a $150,000 home and you got $25,000 worth of flood damage and you can document and substantiate that, then your home would be valued at $125,000 instead of $150,000," Hargrove said.
He believes there are many residents who are not aware of the provisions that call for a reassessment and a deferment in taxes.
"I've been working in the area of state and local taxes for 30 years and I wasn't aware about it," Hargrove said. "My guess is not many are aware."
Property owners should contact their local tax assessor if they own property that was damaged by a declared disaster. Assessors also are the public officials who should be contacted about deferring property tax payments.
According to state law, "the property owner wishing to defer payment of taxes shall make a sworn statement in triplicate no later than Dec. 31 of the year in which the damage or destruction occurred, or 30 days after the tax bill has been mailed, whichever is later."
"The taxes thus postponed shall be divided into 10 equal parts, and one part shall be assessed on the immovable property affected for each year for 10 subsequent years or until the whole of the postponed tax is paid," state law says. "The statute provides that the installments shall bear interest at the rate of 6 percent per annum from Dec. 31 of the year in which they were originally due until paid."
It is important property owners document the damage caused by a disaster to provide to a parish tax assessor, Hargrove said. Documentation can include photographs, damage and work estimates from contractors and insurance claim documentation.
"This includes personal property, too," Hargrove added. "If a business had a tree fall on it, and it damaged the building and then water came in and damaged the work equipment, you could get an adjustment for your personal property. This applies to both residential and business property tax payers who had any damage related to the storm.
"Believe it or not, it's fairly simple. Just fill out the affidavit confirming you had the damage, document the damage, request the deferment on taxes if necessary and begin to repair your property."