Officials: Boudreaux's owes unpaid taxes

A well-known, family-owned reception hall in midcity has skirted its property tax payments for 30 years and owes more than $600,000 in back taxes and accrued interest, leaving the Parish Attorney’s Office and parish assessor looking for ways to remedy the problem.

Boudreaux’s, at the corner of Government and Eugene streets, has managed to fly under the radar, paying just a fraction of its annual tax bill without consequence, because of a mistake made by the parish assessor decades ago that was only recently caught.

The business, owned by Irvin Boudreaux, has been in the family since the early 1980s. It sits across 10 individual parcels of land that are each assessed at different values.

When Boudreaux’s receives its property tax bill every year, the business owners are expected to pay the totality of all of the 10 parcels, which make up the reception hall and the surrounding lots of land used for parking.

But for 30 years, Boudreaux’s paid taxes on only nine out of 10 of the parcels, while the one they’re not paying has the majority of the assessed value.

For 2013, Boudreaux’s paid $1,447.96 in property taxes for the nine parcels of land, each with individual tax bills ranging from $87 to $260, according to records.

The tax bill for the 10th unpaid parcel was $11,106.

Because of a likely mistake by the assessor when the facility was built more than 50 years ago, the most expensive parcel doesn’t correspond to the actual Boudreaux’s building as would be expected. It corresponds to an empty plot of land outside.

This mistake has effectively protected the owners from facing consequences because the taxes on the parcel of land that correspond with the building are up to date. The tax bill for the sprawling reception hall costs less than what many regular homeowners pay.

Phone calls and an email left at Boudreaux’s seeking comment were not returned.

Tax officials with the parish said the situation was an oddity and that it had gone undetected for years.

“This is a weird thing; it blew my mind when I started looking into it,” Assistant Parish Attorney Billy Aaron said.

When residents don’t pay their property taxes, the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office has the authority to auction the delinquent property to bidders interested in acquisition. The tax sale is the only mechanism in place to compel people to pay property taxes.

If no one bids on the property during an auction, it is adjudicated to the East Baton Rouge city-parish government, until someone requests to buy it.

The delinquent parcel of Boudreaux’s lot has been adjudicated to the city-parish since 1984, and in November, someone approached the city-parish to purchase the land.

Aaron said the buyer initially thought they could purchase the entire Boudreaux’s facility.

“I said, ‘OK, that’d be a good one to get, and it would make some money for the city,’ but after I looked at the title work, I realized we couldn’t do this because it isn’t hardly worth any money,” Aaron said.

When people buy adjudicated properties from the city-parish, they can make an offer to pay a portion of the tax debt.

The city-parish often accepts a deal because it gets the property back on the tax rolls.

In the case of Boudreaux’s, Aaron said, the debt is so high no one would bid anywhere close to the $600,000 owed on the empty lot and to accept a more realistic bid would effectively waive the debts that the business owes.

Parish Assessor Brian Wilson said that for years the tax rolls have reflected the expensive unpaid parcel was the actual Boudreaux’s facility.

“It was done in the ’50s. I assume it was a mistake, but I don’t know — I wasn’t even alive,” Wilson said.

Adjudicated properties are not subject to having their values reassessed. Wilson said because it appeared as though the building was adjudicated for 30 years, his office overlooked it for the reassessments that occur every four years.

The other parcels, he said, were likely overlooked because they were assumed to be pieces of vacant land in an area with low sales, which means there would not be much reason to significantly change their assessed values. He said the mass reassessments they do every four years are done on computers and involve more than 200,000 properties at a time.

Wilson said his office was only recently notified about the issue and will assign an appropriate assessment for the land parcel associated with the building to ensure Boudreaux’s pays its correct share of property taxes.

Wilson said he may pursue retroactively correcting the assessment and trying to re-bill Boudreaux’s for the past 30 years, but that would require permission from the Louisiana Tax Commission.

Wilson said this scenario was a rarity and the onus to correct the mistake falls on the property owners.

“Obviously, we don’t come across something like this very often, especially something that’s gone on for so long,” Wilson said. “More times or not, when you have a building like Boudreaux’s, which is a nice catering facility, the owner is not going to let this continue. The owner will want to clear it up and clean the title on it.”

Wilson said his office had not been in contact with Boudreaux’s.

“Why this gentleman has chosen not to fix this, I don’t know,” Wilson said. “Does he think he’s getting a good deal by allowing this to ride on and on? Maybe so, but we’re looking at the best way to correct it.”

Boudreaux’s has for years hosted private events like wedding receptions but is also the regular host of civic events like the Baton Rouge Rotary meetings. Mayor-President Kip Holden has regularly given his state of the parish address at the facility.

This isn’t the only tax trouble Boudreaux’s has gotten into. In 2012, the business filed for bankruptcy because it had fallen delinquent on payments to various taxing authorities. When he filed, he owed $572,641 in federal taxes to the Internal Revenue Service, and another $189,497 to the Louisiana Department of Revenue for sales taxes and withholding taxes.