Suit: Tax Assessments Illegally Lowered for Some

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The tax assessor in New Orleans unfairly and illegally lowered property tax assessments for some commercial properties last year, a lawsuit filed Monday by a civil rights group claims.

The Southern Poverty Law Center filed the suit in state district court in New Orleans on behalf of two city property owners. Assessor Errol Williams is a defendant, along with the head of the city finance department and the Louisiana Tax Commission, which approved the re-assessments.

The property value reductions, as high as 57% for hotels, lesser amounts for other businesses, shifted the city tax burden to owners of residential property, while often benefitting out-of-state businesses, such as the owners of major hotels.

“To maintain its budget, the City was forced to make up the difference by imposing at least 7% more in taxes on all tax paying property owners during the 2021 assessment than it otherwise would have, all other things being equal,” the lawsuit maintains.

The lawsuit acknowledges that Williams made changes based on a state law calling for reassessments of property “damaged, destroyed, non-operational, or uninhabitable due to an emergency declared by the governor or to a disaster or fire.” But, the suit states, Williams is still obligated to “calculate fair market value uniformly, accurately; and equitably.”

Devin Johnson, a spokesman for Williams, said the assessor’s office conducted extensive research on the effects COVD-19 had on residential and commercial property values as the law requires, and made changes based on data. “The research pointed to residential property values continuing to increase, while commercial values went down,” Johnson said in an emailed statement. “These are both well documented and reported facts.”

The city declined comment on pending litigation. Tax Commission Chairman Lawrence Chehardy declined immediate comment pending a chance to read and evaluate the lawsuit.

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