Coming of age
In just 18 months in office, Ascension Parish Tax Assessor M.J. “Mert” Smiley, Jr. has revamped the office, taking it out of the 19th century, and into the technology age with a new website and other features that makes the office one of the top in the state.
Earlier this month, Smiley launched www.ascensionassessor.com which has many features that he says enables his office to be more transparent with everything it does. The website has features such as a search map, tax estimator and homestead exemption and other form fill-outs available. The technology improvements were all managed within the Assessor’s Office regular budget.
At the beginning of 2014, the Assessor’s Office completed an aerial flyover for a pictometry survey to help put unidentified properties on the books. With the website now being launched, the Assessor’s Office is able to bring in some extra tax monies to the different entities of government by simply, “getting it right.”
”Say you live in Donaldsonville and your neighbor tells you he’s paying $200 a year in taxes for a really nice home. You know that you’re paying $2,000, well you can go to the website and look and see if he’s telling the truth because it will show you how much he’s paying and you can call us and say hey one of us is not paying the right amount,” Smiley said. “That’s going to help us get our record straight too.”
In Smiley’s first year, the office was able to bring over $5 million extra and this year he expects the same.
“Usually when it’s not a reassessment year that number is about $2 million total,” Smiley said. “That makes a big difference.”
“We knew there was going to be tons of unidentified properties and it generated tons of money,” Smiley said. “My goal was to have the tools to find these properties, and now we have that. But it still will take time to get it all done, but we are working on it.”
The Assessor’s Office hopes to be done by July 2015 with adding unidentified properties to the tax roll. It’s next thing to do would be to go back and make sure “we are accurate and do some revaluing of properties.”
“We’re going to keep working gradually to get everything done to better suit the parish,” Smiley said.
“Justin [Champlin] and I have taken this office out of the 19th century,” Smiley said. “We had all of this information in a file room and not one piece was scanned. Now, if the courthouse burns tomorrow we still have our records in tack.”
Champlin, Chief Deputy Assessor explained the website’s map tool is able to show you anything from city, town and community names, street addresses and any details you may have on your lawn, such as patio.
“We can tell you how many lawn chairs you have, and show all sides of the property,” Champlin said.
Champlin says the Assessor’s Office is also looking at adding some of other features and details.
“The tax estimator and it was highly requested,” Champlin said. “We made it as simple as possible where you can see the tax break downs for any area of the parish you live in. It gives you an idea of what the taxes would be.”
Smiley added, “The website is really valuable and we want people to know about it and use it.”