In April 2004, long before before Hurricane Katrina was even a tropical wave, the Times-Picayune ran an excellent series on the waste and corruption of Orleans Parish’s unique system of having seven elected tax assessors. An excerpt:

For example, former Saints quarterback Archie Manning has contributed $1,250 to the campaign of 4th District Assessor Betty Jefferson since 1998 and also gave to her predecessor, Ronnie Burke. Manning has lived for 22 years in a galleried Greek Revival mansion in the Garden District, where he and his wife raised three sons, including NFL Pro Bowl quarterback Peyton Manning. Archie Manning paid $450,000 for the home in 1982, but 16 years later, Burke valued it at $285,000 — saving Manning almost $3,000 a year in taxes.

Although Garden District property has appreciated dramatically in recent years, Manning’s assessment has risen at a gentler pace. Jefferson bumped it up four years ago to $331,200. This year, she nudged it up another 9 percent. Jefferson still puts the value at 20 percent less than what Manning paid for it.

Manning did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Jefferson said the suggestion that donations influence assessments is ludicrous.

“Are you kidding? No, donations do not play a part,” she said. “They have nothing to do with assessments, absolutely nothing.”

A response to the comments of the Honorable Betty Jefferson (the sister of the guy who had $90,000 in his freezer) is best made in video form:

With the help of Louisiana Legislature and yes, our governor, we finally have a chance to amend the Louisiana Constitution and fix this ridiculous situation. Every dollar horded by the Archie Mannings of New Orleans, either through political influence, assessor incompetence or just plain dumb luck, is a dollar that could fix a school or pay a cop. (Curiously, unlike most other residents, Archie Manning’s 2007 assessment cannot be found on the assessors’ website.)

On Tuesday, Louisiana voters will vote on whether to consolidate the seven fiefdoms into one. As the amendment primarily affects Orleans Parish, it must pass both statewide and in Orleans Parish. The Citizens for 1 Greater New Orleans makes the following points in favor of the amendment:

  • The current system is unfair to taxpayers, home buyers, and those rebuilding homes, and costly and wasteful in a time of fiscal crisis for the city.
  • The establishment of an objective, fair system utilizing best practices will be efficient and cost effective, and will create a favorable climate for investment and business, resulting in an increase of revenues for the city and improved city services
  • State law requires uniformity for property assessments. There will be a city wide reassessment mandated by the La. Tax Commission.
  • All other parishes and large cities across America have only one assessor.
  • It is easier to hold one assessor accountable. Why pay 7 to do the job of 1?
  • The job of assessor should not be political; it is simply to determine fair market value.
  • The amendment will reduce favoritism for a few. With an objective system, there is no need for cozy relationships or deals for some and not others.

We agree. The best argument against consolidation we’ve heard comes from a Couhig Republican in Algiers, who worries that with a parish-wide election we’ll just get another Marlin Gusman-type hack who’ll favor his friends anyway. But we’ll take that chance and deal with that kind of problem if it comes up. The only bad thing about the amendment is that it does not take effect until 2010.

This assessor mess has been a pet issue for The Weathers Report, which even registered www.oneassessor.com as an addon website domain nearly a year ago. It’s now time to finish the job. Vote Yes on Amendment #7.

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