Tax assessor makes ‘adjustments’ to some Rapides Parish officials’ ‘incorrect’ low property assessments

Corrections made following initial Louisiana Illuminator report
Alena Noakes has followed up on reports of low property valuation for some Rapides Parish officials and the changes that have happened since.
Published: May. 16, 2023 at 9:17 PM CDT|Updated: May. 17, 2023 at 3:34 PM CDT
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RAPIDES PARISH, La. (KALB) - After an article from the independent news organization Louisiana Illuminator revealed staggering low tax assessments for some Rapides Parish public officials, Tax Assessor Richard “Rick” Ducote made adjustments to the “select group.”

“Recently, it was brought to my attention that a select group of assessments were incorrect. Just like any time assessment questions are brought to my attention, we immediately reviewed and corrections were made to those needing adjustment.”

Rick Ducote, Rapides Parish tax assessor

Those adjustments were actually significant increases for five Rapides Parish police jurors, former sheriff William Earl Hilton and current Sheriff Mark Wood. All had properties with low valuations and, thus, low tax assessments and low tax bills.

For tax purposes, properties are assessed at least every four years. That is required under state law.

“Thirty-nine and a half years ago, whatever it was - 39, 39 and a half, I paid seven thousand for the acre of land I bought, and the rest I built my house,” said Wood. “So for $50,000, I built that house.”

Wood’s brick home sits on one acre of land off of rural Highway 28 West beneath shady oak trees on a short road with a few neighbors. It is fitted with an in-ground pool that was installed when the house was built, as well as a roofed front porch and screened-in deck, which was only recently added on.

However, in 2022, the home was valued at $31,000, and the acre was valued at $6,000. After applying the homestead exemption tax credit, Wood had a zero-dollar tax bill.

Tyler Albrecht with Keaty Realty in Lafayette has five years of experience working with property valuations as a real estate agent.

“That’s extremely low,” said Albrecht. “I mean $31,000, you can almost not even get a piece of land for that price. Any house you find in the country or the city for that price is going to need to be demolished, honestly.”

Meanwhile, former sheriff Hilton’s home sits on one residential acre surrounded by 26 spacious acres in Hineston. His home was built in 1968 on land given to him by his dad. It was 1,854 square feet at construction, with additions having been made to it over the years but no recent changes.

“It’s partially brick, brick veneer. And then the addition on it is aluminum siding,” said Hilton.

Additions and updates are two key factors that can increase a home’s value.

“The most important factor of any home is first location and then living square footage and really the updates on it,” said Albrecht.

In 2022, Hilton’s total value was just over $78,000. His home was valued at $69,000.

When the Illuminator asked Ducote about the assessments, he responded, “Honestly, I’m shocked that no one’s ever brought that up. I’m definitely going to look into that.”

News Channel 5 also reached out to Ducote, requesting an interview multiple times. He did not grant an interview but did send a statement and attempted to answer follow-up questions.

As noted, Ducote said that corrections were made to those properties that needed adjustments. Those corrections were not insignificant.

Wood’s home once valued at $31,000 in 2022 is now valued at $174,000 in 2023. That is five times its 2022 value. The sheriff said the most recent update since 2020, which per the tax assessor was the last assessment, was a screen around his back patio and a roof over it.

Hilton’s home once valued at $69,000 in 2022 is now valued at $147,000 in 2023. In a phone call with News Channel 5, Hilton could not recall the year he last made changes to his home.

The police jurors with low assessments also received corrections of several thousand dollars.

  • David Johnson (District H):
    • 2022 residential value: $75,000
    • 2023 residential value: $113,000
  • Craig Smith (District C):
    • 2022 residential value: $75,000
    • 2023 residential value: $122,000
  • Davron “Bubba” Moreau (District A):
    • 2022 residential value: $57,000
    • 2023 residential value: $75,000
  • Theodore Fountaine, III (District D):
    • 2022 residential value: $35,000
    • 2023 residential value: $57,000

Police Juror Jay Scott (District I) is the only juror whose residential value did not change from 2022 to 2023, with his home remaining valued at $57,000.

These changes beg the question: why were there such large discrepancies?

News Channel 5 asked Wood and Hilton if they had ever requested the tax assessor give them a “sweet deal” on their tax assessments.

“Haha, my God. Definitely not. Definitely not,” said Wood. “Rick is a straight-up square guy just like his old boss Mr. Ralph Gill was. And no, I have not asked anybody. I’m just a guy, Ms. Alena, that’s worked hard his whole life and finally got to somewhere where, you know, me and my wife can, our children are our gone, and maybe we can do some improvements to our house. No, but I’ve never asked anybody to help me with any kind of tax problems.”

“I have not, and I go all the way back to Trent James, long before Rick Ducote was ever assessor. I have never, not one time, went to any assessor, Trent James, Charlie Slay, Ralph Gill or Rick Ducote, I’ve never went to them and asked for any special favor or any special tax evaluation. Never.”

“Like every Assessor in the state is required, I follow the Louisiana Constitution, Revised Statutes and the Louisiana Tax Commission guidelines when valuing property.

I believe in transparency, and because of this have always made the tax rolls available on our website for everyone.

As always, the Rapides Parish Assessor’s Office is dedicated and available to address any and all assessment questions or concerns.”

Rick Ducote, Rapides Parish tax assessor

Ducote was elected as tax assessor in 2011. He has served in the tax assessor’s office for 30 years.

As of Tuesday night, the only police jurors to have responded to our request for comment were Fountaine and Scott.

“When I saw the article and, you know, they were making, they were saying some weren’t paying any, and for the acre that a whole lot of them had, it was, you know, really small,” Fountaine said. “My thought was, ‘Okay, something’s quite not right.’ But I said, ‘You know that’s the tax assessor.’ And to read they didn’t know about it or they’re gonna look into it. You know, it sounds kinda strange only because that’s supposed to be their job.”

Fountaine also said he did not know the value of his home had been changed since the article was published.

Scott’s property value did not change. As to whether he had any sort of arrangement with Ducote pertaining to his tax assessment, Scott said he has never spoken to Ducote about his property.

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