- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 18, 2014

GONZALES, La. (AP) - Ascension Parish Assessor M.J. Smiley Jr. says he plans to proceed with hiring a firm to audit the parish’s salt dome caverns, although the Parish Council will not reconsider participating in paying for the effort.

The Advocate reports (http://bit.ly/1kEZXDz ) Smiley and his staff have found that caverns in Ascension Parish’s two salt domes have not been on tax rolls in at least 10 years and want to hire a Texas company other parish assessors are using to assess other unreported caverns in Louisiana.

Adding the caverns to the rolls in Ascension Parish could result in millions in tax revenue to be shared among various public entities.

Parish Attorney O’Neil Parenton Jr. has advised the council that paying for an expert to determine the caverns’ assessed values would create the appearance of a conflict. Each year the Parish Council sits as the Board of Review to hear appeals of property tax rolls compiled by the assessor.

“I said, ‘Hey, if you’re going to be the judge, you shouldn’t pay for one side’s expert,’ ” Parenton said.

“We’re going forward. The law states that we have to do it, and we are going to do it,” he said.

Smiley wants to hire Pritchard and Abbott Inc. and use leftover money local governments had last year for aerial imagery of the parish.

Assumption Parish Assessor Wayne Blanchard hired Pritchard and Abbott last year after the Bayou Corne-area sinkhole brought to light unreported caverns in the Napoleonville Dome.

Blanchard has pursued the current year’s taxes and the three prior years allowed by law, a combined $15.5 million in taxes from several cavern owners.

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Information from: The Advocate, http://theadvocate.com