Lafayette to target improper homestead exemptions

The Lafayette City-Parish Council on Tuesday signed off on a program to recover more tax revenue from property owners improperly claiming homestead exemption.

The state’s homestead exemption provision offers a significant break on property taxes by exempting the first $75,000 of a home’s value from taxation — the largest and most common tax break for residential property.

Residents are allowed to claim the exemption only on property where they live, but an estimated 3 percent to 5 percent of property owners are wrongly claiming the provision, according to Michael Sarver, a Mandeville businessman who has designed a software system to pinpoint improper claims for the tax break.

The council unanimously approved a measure that allows Lafayette Parish Assessor Conrad Comeaux to contract with Sarver’s business.

From $815,000 to $1.4 million in uncollected tax revenue each year could be at stake, according to figures from Comeaux in a memo to council members.

That money, if collected, would be shared by city-parish government, the School Board and other agencies in the parish that are funded by property taxes.

Sarver said his company will use proprietary software to work through a variety of public records to determine whether residents are actually living where they claim homestead exemption.

Sarver told council members that improper claims generally involve someone who has secured the tax exemption on property they rent or lease, which is not allowed under Louisiana law.

“This isn’t for those people who are honest,” City-Parish Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux said. “If you have been paying your appropriate taxes in the appropriate status, you have nothing to worry about.”

The contract calls for Sarver’s company to be paid only if tax money is collected after an improper claim is identified.

The Lafayette Parish Assessor’s office sometimes identifies improper homestead exemptions on its own but does not have the resources to implement the type of thorough review offered by Sarver, Chief Deputy Assessor Jodi Hebert said.

In other business:

PLAYGROUND: the council voted to accept the donation of four lots in the large Ile des Cannes apartment complex near Scott for the development of a playground.

“There are 504 apartments in this complex, and the children have no place to play,” said Ken Hargrave, who founded A Heart for Children, a nonprofit group that works with children in the low-income area.

City-parish government will bring the playground under its liability insurance but will not pay to build the facility.

Local Rotary Clubs are expected to help raise funds to build the playground, and maintenance will be taken over by the Ile des Cannes neighborhood association, City-Parish Public Works Director Tom Carroll said.

The Ile des Cannes complex is outside the city limits, and residents do not have access to public transportation.

“They are kind of isolated out here in the middle of nowhere,” Hargrave said.