Sheriff ordered to repay tax take  

The Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office can’t deduct a commission on the collection of property taxes and will have to repay the Livingston Parish Council on Aging, the state Supreme Court said in overruling an appeals court.

The Sheriff’s Office will have to pay back the 12 percent commission it has been taking since 2004 for collecting the Council on Aging’s 2-mill tax, according to the unanimous ruling.

The Sheriff’s Office also has received fees from property taxes it collects for the Amite River Basin Commission and the Livingston Parish Library Board, attorneys on both sides of the case confirmed.

The sheriff’s attorney, Eric Pittman, said that unless a rehearing is requested and granted, that Sheriff Jason Ard is committed to abiding by the court’s ruling for all three taxes, even though only the Council on Aging brought a legal action against the fees.

The fees collected by the sheriff on taxes for the three agencies totaled $1.1 million as of 2009. Since then, the sheriff has put the collection fees from those three agencies in escrow until completion of the litigation, Pittman said.

The sheriff has not been receiving commissions on the numerous other property taxes he collects, because those taxes already were on the books when the state Legislature changed the method of funding sheriff’s offices in 1976, Pittman said.

Under that change, law-enforcement districts were set up and sheriffs were granted a millage of their own that equaled the amount they had been receiving in commissions for collecting other agencies’ taxes.

However, the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office argued in the Council on Aging case that it had authority to collect commissions on property taxes that voters approved since 1976.

The Supreme Court disagreed, saying sheriffs no longer can deduct commissions on property taxes.

“The cost associated with the collection of those taxes is now covered by the millage levied by the law enforcement districts,” the opinion states.

The court’s opinion noted that the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office is the only sheriff’s office in the state still collecting commissions on property taxes.

“It’s wonderful and absolutely the right decision,” attorney Jill Craft said Tuesday afternoon when she learned of the decision in favor of her client. “It will mean a tremendous amount to a bunch of people who need it.”

Craft said the Livingston Parish Council on Aging had to reduce the services it could provide to the elderly because of the collection fees being charged.

The Supreme Court reached the same conclusion as a 21st Judicial District trial court. The trial court had been overruled by the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal.

Pittman said Tuesday that he hadn’t had a chance to discuss with Ard whether he wants to ask the high court for a rehearing.