Government is coming to New Orleans!

The talk of the town (and maybe the country, as it was featured on All Things Considered this morning) is that New Orleans is finally getting some government. This about sums it up:

One of these days, the people of Louisiana are going to get good government, and they aren’t going to like it.
Huey P. Long

No, no, we didn’t finally get a quality major or congressman or anything like that. But we did vote in an assessor that is finally looking into making taxes fair. And a lot of people are really unhappy. Here is how it has worked in the past: families pass down homes from generation to generation (or sell them very cheap) and they are taxed based on the sale value of the home… never to change. To avoid pesky re-assessments, you do some special favors for the assessor and he or she “adjusts” the value of your home, or simply overlooks it completely. (Note: Paul and I actually met with our previous assessor before the election — a college drop-out getting paid $120K/year in a position his mother handed down to him in a non-election year — he told us in no uncertain terms that because we were “nobodies” our taxes should remain high.)

So how does this play out? Well, to give some examples: two of the shotgun doubles (one next door and one 3 doors down) are assessed at around $100k, less than three times the assessment of ours (and their market value). That works out to us paying about 5 to 6 times more than they do for the same house. Across the street, in the super-fancy private drive newly built homes, at least two are assessed at approximately the same value as ours — meaning that they pay the same taxes that we do for a home with a two-car garage, private drive, and roughly 800 square feet more living space. In short, moving to the city and/or not being connected to the city’s elite means that you shoulder the overwhelming majority of the tax burden.

After Katrina, local elections were shook up a bit by the “I.Q.” platform that pledged to consolidate assessors (7 assessors in New Orleans oversaw these special favors throughout the city) and reform the unfair property tax situation. Low and behold, we elected one of them. And good heavens, she is following through. At least, it seems like she is. Her office has been sending out new assessments based on comps of home sales. I don’t doubt that some may be a tad bit off (as many are claiming, based on slowing sales of higher priced homes) but what I’ve been reading from those on the local discussion forums looks right on. People are freaking out; particularly landlords who are already blaming the assessor’s office for forcing them to raise rents (note: taxes haven’t even been set — the millage must be adjusted accordingly).

Paul and I have not seen our assessment; it has yet to arrive in the mail. This afternoon, we should be able to access everyone’s assessments online (the one good thing Nagin’s administration managed to do pre-Katrina was to make this information public). Seeing this will give us a clue to how fair and just the city is trying to be. If the millage is adjusted the way we think it will be, changes are that our taxes will go down to a more appropriate level, which is a welcome relief.

In short, we are very excited about all of this. And while I struggle with side effects of possible gentrification of poorer areas due to increased property values, I can’t help but hope this more equitable, reasoned level of taxation will draw more young professionals to the city and help us rebuild. (To those who are complaining, think about these previous years as a little lagniappe!)