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Louisiana Property Tax Updates

Updated september 2019

But It's A Nice Round Number...

For the 2017 Tax Year, the Taxpayer protested a gross over-valuation of its casino/hotel property by the Assessor for Bossier Parish (the “Assessor”). The dispute concerns both the casino/hotel property and the land valuations (land underlying the casino/hotel, the RV parking lot and the employee parking lot). After a full trial on the merits, the five-member state commission charged with overseeing the correctness of property tax assessments – the Louisiana Tax Commission (“LTC”) – rendered a decision that in large part corrected the injustice and numerous errors contained in the Assessor’s overvaluation and consequent unfair assessment regarding both the casino/hotel property and the land valuation.

The Commission determined that both the Taxpayer’s appraisal and its Staff appraisal were flawed for different reasons, but also determined that sufficient information was submitted enabling the Commission to reconcile the issues in each of the appraisals and calculate a new, correct income approach to value.  In its decision, the Commission actually offered values of the casino/hotel property using both the cost approach and the income approach, ultimately concluding that the income approach was the more reliable method for valuing the casino/hotel income-producing property.  

The Commission’s Decision also determined that both the Assessor’s and Staff appraiser’s land valuations were unreliable, and further determined that “The Taxpayer’s land appraisal is the most reliable information and evidence provided regarding the land value.” Accordingly, the Commission determined the total land value to be the same as the Taxpayer’s local land appraisal expert.

The Assessor appealed the LTC decision to the District Court which affirmed the LTC’s finding of 65% obsolescence (using the cost approach method) based upon the record evidence of obsolescence – none of which was refuted by the Assessor.  The District Court was however silent on the land valuation issue. The Assessor appealed the District Court decision to the Second Circuit Court of Appeal.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeal ordered that the LTC adopt the appraisal report of the LTC staff appraiser in which the cost approach was used to value the subject property. Interestingly, both parties (Taxpayer and Assessor) and the LTC refuted the staff appraisal report during the LTC hearing on the matter, and neither the parties, nor the LTC requested that the appraisal report be adopted on appeal to the District Court or the Second Circuit Court.

The Second Circuit found that the Assessor “arbitrarily refused to consider additional obsolescence in his 2017 assessment, which was an abuse of the Assessor's discretion,” and as a result, his 2017 assessment was incorrect.  However, the Court also determined that the LTC “arbitrarily and capriciously assigned an obsolescence factor [65%], which was in error.” The Court then fashioned a remedy that requires the LTC to adopt the appraisal of a staff employee that uses a 30% obsolescence factor that is not supported by anything other than that employee’s belief that it would yield a “nice round number.”  Additionally, the staff appraisal report referenced by the Second Circuit included the casino/hotel property, but included only part of the land – the land on which the casino/hotel sits –and did not include the other two parcels of land.  Thus, the Second Circuit was silent on the valuation of two of the land parcels.

The Court’s decision fails to address the record presented by the taxpayer – most importantly the opinion of the taxpayer’s expert, and the factual back-up he provides for those opinions.  The expert opinions of the only qualified expert appraiser to testify were not even mentioned in the decision, indicating that evaluation of the record in its entirety did not occur. The decision mentions the expert appraiser once, but does not discuss his analysis or the substance of his opinions at all. The decision also does not recite his qualifications, credentials, or professional associations and experience. The decision is also devoid of any discussion or any of the evidence presented by the taxpayer’s other witnesses – including the General Manager of the casino/hotel - on which the LTC’s decision was clearly based.

Both the Assessor and the Taxpayer have filed applications for re-hearing to the Second Circuit.  Bobby Edmiston, Assessor v. Louisiana Riverboat Gaming Partnership d/b/a Diamond Jacks Casino and Resort, No. 52, 948 (La. App. 2 Cir. 9/9/2019

Angela W. Adolph
Kean Miller LLP
American Property Tax Counsel (APTC)

 

Property Tax Exemption

The operator of lease-to-own stores claimed an exemption from Orleans Parish ad valorem taxes on the grounds that the leased personal property was being used in the homes of its customers. However, the Fourth Circuit found that the applicable ad valorem tax exemption applies to owners using their property in their own homes as opposed to a commercial owner leasing out personal property to customers for use in their homes. Aaron's, Inc. v. Foster, No. 2019-CA-0443 (La. App. 4 Cir. 09/25/2019).

Angela. W. Adolph
Kean Miller LLP
American Property Tax Counsel (APTC)

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