Thursday, December 27, 2007

Dysfunction Junction

I got my tax bill just before Christmas.
Great timing!

Even the IRS knows how to avoid that.

A Little Background.

In 2006 we didn't get our tax bill or our homestead exemption for 2007. There was this thing going on back then, you might have heard about. In any event we eventually paid our 2006 taxes, changed our mailing address and filed our 2007 Homestead Exemption. It was never applied to our 2007 tax bill, we never even got a tax bill. Eventually we got around to trying to straighten it out.

I've written about our problems with the 2008 tax assessment and during that we decided to try tackle the 2007 bill. We refiled the Homestead Exemption, changed the mailing address again and filed an affidavit that we were planning on returning to our house. We were told it would be corrected on the next tax bill.

This Time Around.

When got our 2008 tax bill, it was still wrong. It hasn't been right since 2005. It still does not show our Homestead Exemption for either 2007 or 2008 and the 2007 tax has not been corrected.

So, back I go to City Hall. On the Fourth Floor. I waited in line for the obligatory hour to talk to one of the people in our Assessor, Erroll Williams' Office, while other citizens simply walked in and talked to their assessors staff, no waiting. The Assessor's staff lady said they had the Homestead Exemption, she even showed me a computer screen. Her story was that they had done their part, it was up to the City Finance Department to correct the tax bill.

Down to the City Finance Department, Tax Research Section. The lady there looked in the computer and told me they had no record of the Homestead Exemption and they they can't add a Homestead Exemption, the Assessor has to issue a "Change Order". She asked if the Assessor had given me anything. Being a dummy and dulled by standing around in a crowded hallway for an hour I didn't ask for a printout.

According to Finance, the screen I saw was an internal Assessor screen, which shows a Homestead Exemption, but doesn't reflect the information actually given the Finance Department. Both offices agreed it might take 4 -6 months to transmit than one piece of information down two floors of City Hall.

I asked if there was any way they could calculate the tax owed so I could make a partial payment and hopefully in the fullness of time the appropriate correction will be made and the balance zero out. Unfortunately the only lady in the Tax Research Section who can do that is on vacation until next Thursday.

The Assessor and the Finance Department also both maintain web sites where you are supposed to be able to look up you assessment and you tax bill. Unfortunately both sites are apparently disconnected from the actual information in the official records, since they don't agree and have different information. I'm not sure what the update process is but there seem to be four separate, unconnected and unsynchronized versions of My Property Tax. Seems to me in an efficient system the information would be automatically shared and updated. In an ideal system the information would be stored in exactly one place and every office would have access to it.

I briefly thought about paying the tax or at least my guess at the right amount but immediately thought better of it. One conclusion all of my fellow citizens waiting for the Assessor agreed on was that once the city gets your money, you'll never see it again.

Defeated by the system I decided to regroup.

The Next Time.

I will return after New Years from a little sun, I'll go back to City Hall again and try to get the Assessors office to give me some documentation. I'll go back to the Finance department and see if the magic calculation lady is there, so I can pay the right amount of tax.

Unfortunately I still have an appeal before the Louisiana Tax Commission to look forward to, which could change everything. There is now a toll free number for Orleans Parish Appeals, 1.866.663.4754. I am told a letter will be mailed to all parties before the end of the year and hearings will start on February 8, 2008.


Leigh C. said...

Our homestead exemption is missing from our tax bill as well. Of course, if too many of us approach City Hall at the same time about this, we may have to watch out for pepper spray and tasers.

LisaPal said...

Yep, I got my tax bill on Christmas Eve. It was about 5 times what last year's was, but I didn't the fight in me, so I'm just going to pay it.

mominem said...

My problem isn't so muuch about the amount of the tax, uts the actual errors. Like the missing 2007 Homestead Exemption we have filed twice now and the face that my currently unlivable house is actually appraised a more than a renovated house next door.

Puddinhead said...

I was waiting at Ol' Errol's digs myself this past Friday, for almost exactly the same reason as you. We hadn't received our 2007 Homestead Exemption application by mail, which left us getting a tax bill last year which didn't reflect having the exemption applied toward it. Went down and had a supplemental application submitted; a couple of months later we're at City Hall playing building permit games, and decide to go to the tax offices to check to see if the corrected info had gotten there from Errol Williams' office yet. The women said "Honey, it's ONLY been two months" and said it might take them half a year to get anything out of the Assessors. She told us not to worry about the tax bill we'd received; we'd get a new one whenever they (the tax folks) finally got the corrected bill from Williams' office.

As in your case, fast forward to this year's tax bill. Not only did we get a higher tax bill for this year (slightly more than the faulty 2007 amount even though the exemption was already applied correctly to the 2008 total...but honestly, it will probably be a good bit higher next year and unfortunately for me but fortunately for the community as a whole be close to correct) but the still-uncorrected 2007 bill was shown as "delinquent", with penalties and fees added.

When they'd finally worked their way from 211 to 270, and it was my turn, the woman was as nice and polite as could be. A few moments of research and she turned up that the supplemental application that I'd gone down and had the folks working in Ol' Errol's office last year had never been entered into the system--there was no record at all of our having filed a supplemental homestead exemption except for the printed confirmation letter that we'd gotten last year, and luckily brought with us on Friday.