Location: Dover Boulevard just off Ambassador Caffery
Acreage: 7 acres
Property taxes paid in 2010: $20.44
Owner: Dwight Andrus Jr.
This 7-acre tract off Ambassador Caffery Parkway sits among the most valuable commercial land in the city. Owned by Dwight Andrus Jr., the property does not appear to have any agricultural activity taking place but nonetheless paid $20 in property taxes last year. Andrus did not return several calls made to his office for comment. Lafayette Parish Tax Assessor Conrad Comeaux was unable to confirm what type, if any, farming is taking place on the land, but he says his office has begun a new process for monitoring agricultural land within the city. Using new aerial photos, the assessor’s office will identify properties potentially not complying with the law’s loose standards. By early next year, those property owners will be notified of their loss in agricultural status and must re-apply for farmland classification, certifying that there is some type of ag activity taking place on the land.
Comeaux, who is again unopposed this election cycle and will begin his fourth term as the parish tax assessor next year, admits that a few of his larger campaign contributions have come from landowners who use the tax loophole to pay next-to-nothing in property taxes. Glenn Stewart, Daniel Saloom, Richard Chappuis and John Chappuis are among the contributors who have benefited from the exemption, though Comeaux says he doesn’t look at the individual property tax brackets of people who choose to donate to his campaign.
As for whether the state law will ever be amended, The Independent has reached out to Lafayette’s legislative delegation to gauge lawmakers’ interest in reforming the statute. State Reps. Joel Robideaux, Rickey Hardy, Nancy Landry and Page Cortez (who is unopposed in his Senate bid) responded to our inquiries before press time Monday. Robideaux says he will research the current law and discuss the issue with legislative staffers to see what remedies, if any, are available.
Notes Cortez, “I am certainly willing to look at anything where there are misuses or unintended consequences of the law.”
“I’m not sure if it would have to be taken up in a fiscal session or not, but I will start looking into possible resolutions to the unfair application of the agriculture classification,” Landry says.
Hardy calls the ag exemption an “unfair practice” and maintains that “help is on the way.”
Comeaux says he would support a change in the law, depending on the language and whether the outcome would be fair for both landowners and farmers. Comeaux also points out that the law already has been altered a few times in the past — but not for the benefit of local tax coffers. When agricultural land use value was defined by the Legislature in 1976, the law clearly stated that when ag land is converted to another use, the property owner must pay five years in deferred taxes based on the land’s current usage. That means once ag-classified land is developed for, say, commercial use, the property owner would owe five years of back taxes based on the land’s current commercial value.
At some point in the early 1990s, that language was stripped from the law.
Reinstating that requirement is a good starting point to fixing a bad law that costs Lafayette Parish tens of millions in lost tax revenue each year.
[Editor’s Note: “Fair Share” is part of an ongoing Independent Weekly investigative series to expose local property owners taking advantage of what is widely viewed as an outdated state law. The state law, first reported in The Ind’s April 6 cover story “Green Acres,” mainly relies on the honesty of landowners who claim that there is some type of agricultural activity on their land in order to pay extremely low property taxes. While we argue that the law needs to be changed and will work to see that happen, we also maintain there is no excuse to exploit it. We have identified numerous tracts of land throughout the city that benefit from the exemption yet have no agricultural activity whatsoever taking place on them. Since we started this series, The Independent has been criticized for not reporting on certain agricultural properties and their owners due to personal interests at this newspaper, particularly property located within River Ranch. However, when this Fair Share project began, The Ind used a map provided by the Lafayette Parish Assessor’s Office that identified all agricultural property within the city limits of Lafayette as of March 23, 2011. River Ranch had no property listed on that map; the numerous tracts of agricultural land and their owners have all been identified using the same map.]
1. 1900 Kaliste Saloom Road (corner of Kaliste Saloom and Camellia Boulevard)
• 13.5 acres
• owned by Parc Lafayette developer Glenn Stewart
• paid $42 in property taxes in 2010
• lost ag status for 2011 due to breaking ground on development
2. 3100 Ambassador Caffery
• 11 acres of forested land
• owned mostly by members of the Arnould family
• paid $28.69 in property taxes in 2010, is on the market for $3.3 million
• lost ag status due to The Independent Weekly’s investigation
3. 200 Alleman Drive
• 8 acres of undeveloped land with a residential building using city services
• owned by attorney Greg Logan
• paid $17.41 in property taxes in 2010
• lost ag status due to The Independent Weekly’s investigation
Mike Harson's coffers show the advantage of incumbency.
The Lafayette City-Parish Council will vote on an ordinance for final adoption Tuesday that, if approved, would give the city the green light to take over a stretch of Verot School Road from the state Department of Transportation and Development.
The Louisiana Association of Educators filed a lawsuit challenging the $60 million in spending through Louisiana's public school financing formula.
He's been out of office for nearly a decade, but former U.S. Sen. John Breaux is back on the campaign trail, urging voters to support his one-time colleague, Democrat Mary Landrieu.
The unresolved fate of the ashes left behind after Ebola waste was destroyed in Texas highlights the problem U.S. hospitals and communities could face in disposing of their own waste.
While much of the talk was about whether New Orleans could win a big game — or any game, for that matter — on the road, the conversation in the Saints' locker room was about something completely different.
State health officials told thousands of doctors planning to attend a tropical diseases meeting this weekend in New Orleans to stay away if they have been to certain African countries or have had contact with an Ebola patient in the last 21 days.
Republicans are calling on Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu to apologize after she suggested Thursday that President Barack Obama's deep unpopularity in the South is partly tied to race.
Compared to the rest of the country, Lafayette has it pretty good when it comes to the cost and speed of our Internet.
Hello Kitty turns 40; police ambush suspect caught; Knicks surprise Cavs and more national and international news for Friday, October 31, 2014.
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
The Lafayette City-Parish Council will consider on Tuesday a revised plan to the transform a block in Downtown Lafayette into a mixed-use residential-retail-commercial development that doesn’t include giving title to the property to the Lafayette Public Trust Finance Authority, an arrangement the council rejected earlier this month.
Trying to combat the national undertones of Louisiana's U.S. Senate race, Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu is traveling the state this week on a sort of pork celebration tour, telling voters about the projects and aid she's delivered to Louisiana.
Ever thought that big, pink Gulf coast shrimp you ordered at the restaurant or bought from the store didn't taste juicy or salty enough? Maybe it wasn't from the Gulf.
The state treasurer won't sign financial documents needed for $200 million in borrowing or for a refinancing of existing debt until he believes they accurately explain the surplus disagreement.
Bill Cassidy voted for 97 percent of the bills signed by Barack Obama.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is joining South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley on her campaign bus tour.
A New Iberia man has been sentenced to life in prison for killing a 4-year-old girl and scalding her 3-year-old brother.
A district judge decided Wednesday against sanctioning attorney/school board candidate Dawn Morris for her behind-the-scenes role in a lawsuit against Mark Cockerham.
Secretary of State Tom Schedler says Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration may have improperly destroyed records in the state employee health insurance program, in the middle of a heavily-criticized rewrite of benefit plans.
Paper cites the former ADA's "experience as a prosecutor, his demonstrated integrity, and his ideas for reshaping the [DA's] office" in urging voters to support Keith Stutes Nov. 4.
Louisiana officials have sent a letter to the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene un-inviting members of the group who have recently been to ebola-affected West African countries from attending the group’s annual conference in New Orleans next week.
Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints have to find a way to win on the road if they plan to take over first place in the NFC South.
"It is obvious that Louisiana economic performance has not outperformed the South or the United States as a whole and, in fact, has substantially underperformed..."
A state district judge said he will rule Friday on a preliminary injunction to keep some charter schools from receiving $60 million through Louisiana's public school financing formula.