'Something stinks,' official says and demands changes at Louisiana Tax Commission
ST. FRANCISVILLE- West Feliciana Parish President Kevin Couhig sent a scathing letter to Governor John Bel Edwards this week demanding change at the Louisiana Tax Commission. He claims his parish is out millions of dollars when it comes to property taxes being paid by Entergy for its nuclear power plant site.
The letter sent to the governor said "Entergy's annual tax payment to West Feliciana is roughly $5 million less than it should be if done properly and in accordance with the law."
That money is crucial in small parishes like West Feliciana. Couhig said it would equate to $1,159 per student in the public school system, $700,000 for the sheriff's office, $250,000 to fight fires, and $1,000,000 for parish services and road maintenance.
"It's supposed to be valued at market value, but it's never been done like that," Tax Assessor Randy Ritchie said.
Auditors found this year the Tax Commission calculates the value of public service companies using self-reported information. The Tax Commission does not conduct any audits to ensure the accuracy of the information companies submit.
"Something stinks and it must be corrected so that the people of my parish and the entire state can have confidence that the process is transparent, fair and honest," Couhig wrote.
"With the public service properties, they hand us what they say the value is and if the values low, who's going to appeal that, we've been told we can't address it," Ritchie said.
In fact, Ritchie said there's no one he can appeal to once the Tax Commission makes its decision. Couhig met with the chairman of the tax commission about this.
"He clearly sees his role as explaining why the staff can't possibly be wrong while continuing to protect the commission from any transparency of its methods or disclosure of its results," Couhig said.
Auditors found recently the Entergy Nuclear Power Plant was assessed at $67.5 million less than its actual value. That equates to $5 million less in taxes Entergy had to pay.
Governor John Bel Edwards appoints the board members on the Tax Commission. Tonight, Couhig's plea to the Governor isn't just about money but changes at that agency.
"The findings of the Legislative Auditor reinforce our belief that the reform you promised is still needed at the Louisiana Tax Commission," Couhig said.
"The Governor needs to take a good look at what's going on," Ritchie said. "I can't tell the governor what to do, but it's a cause for concern."
Late this afternoon, the Governor's Office said, "Governor Edwards expects that the Louisiana Tax Commission will review the Legislative Auditor's Report and make any appropriate changes. "
Meanwhile, Entergy released the following statement:
"The Louisiana Tax Commission is a statewide body charged with determining a fair market value for utility properties in the state. The tax policy reason behind such an appraisal system is to find an equitable balance between the revenue needs of local government and the expense that utility customers throughout the state end up paying. The Louisiana Tax Commission's role in the process is to value utility property fairly under the law, utilizing nationally recognized appraisal practices. Fundamentally, it is critical that we have a single body that determines property tax value in a fair manner and makes equitable decisions for the good of all parishes because, in the case of multi-parish assets such as Entergy Louisiana, the decisions of a single parish will affect the obligations of 58 other parishes."