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What's A Utility Worth?

Mark Carroll

What is a power plant, water company, or railroad worth in Louisiana? Much more than Monopoly money.

“If they did this different methodology, which is supported by national organizations and which other states use, the value of these companies would increase by $2.4 billion.”

That’s the finding of a recent Legislative Auditor’s report, looking at how the Louisiana Tax Commission establishes current value of public utilities for property tax purposes. Gina Brown supervised the audit group. 

“The way they do their current valuations is not wrong,” she says, noting the Tax Commisssions’ response to the audit. “They are in line with seven other Southern states. They use a methodology by a private appraisal firm.”

But if the Tax Commission used the method most states do, Brown says, local governments would benefit.

“Revenue to local governments would increase by $249-million – and that’s in one year.”

Local tax assessors, like Livingston Parish’s Assessor, Jeff Taylor, find that concerning. He points out the legislative audit makes it clear the starting point for the valuations is the utility companies themselves.

“They self-report,” Taylor states. “They give the information to the Tax Commission and the Tax Commission then makes determinations, then they send us the numbers. We don’t even get any of the stuff. They just send us the numbers.”

And what can local assessors do if they think the valuations are wrong?

“Nothing,” Taylor says.

“They used to be able to challenge,” Brown remarks.

And Taylor says, “If I dispute it, law really doesn’t give me anywhere to go right now. I can complain. I can disagree with them. But when everything is all figured out, it’s them that has the final say.”

Two years ago, in the 2015 legislative session, a bill that would have allowed local assessors to review and dispute the valuations was killed in committee.