- Associated Press - Sunday, February 23, 2014

NAPOLEONVILLE, La. (AP) - Seven companies operating on the Napoleonville Dome in Assumption Parish salt complex must pay a combined $15.6 million in property taxes and penalties under protest by this coming week while they fight tax bills in court.

The Advocate reported (https://bit.ly/1ghMWw9) a state District Court judge’s ruling is an early skirmish in a bigger legal fight over whether unreported salt dome caverns in Assumption Parish should be assessed as land or commercial improvements.

The ruling also blocks a bid by the companies to delay upfront payment of the tax bills for nearly 10 months.

At stake is how much tax the companies will pay annually to the Assumption Parish Police Jury and other government entities.

Parish Assessor Wayne “Cat” Blanchard uncovered tens of millions of dollars in unreported salt dome caverns and other infrastructure last year after the Bayou Corne-area sinkhole brought the salt dome operations to light.

For commercial improvements, companies are relied upon in Louisiana to report their assets voluntarily.

After hiring a special auditing firm, Blanchard has said, he documented dozens of salt dome caverns that went unreported for years. In other cases, assets for salt dome companies were reported but undervalued.

Dow Hydrocarbons Resources, Bridgeline Storage Co. and other companies have been fighting the assessments at the Louisiana Tax Commission and sued Blanchard and Sheriff Mike Waguespack late last year in state District Court, alleging the assessments were improper.

The taxes in dispute are beyond what the salt dome operators - many of which are the largest taxpayers in the parish - normally pay and came through a procedure known as a supplemental assessment.

Waguespack is trying to collect taxes and 10 percent penalties for four years, 2010 to 2013.

In the ruling this past week, District Judge Guy Holdridge ratified an agreement proposed by attorney Cheryl Kornick, representing salt dome operators. Under the deal, the companies would pay the taxes under protest if the sheriff agrees to hold the taxes in escrow.

Kornick told the judge that her clients were concerned about paying under protest without the commitment.

Waguespack made a similar commitment during a Tax Commission hearing earlier this month.

A lawyer for the sheriff, Mary Olive Pierson, confirmed the offer still stands.

“The short answer is the sheriff is going to do exactly what you’ve asked him to do, and we’ve already said that on the record at the Tax Commission,” Pierson told Holdridge.

This time, the commitment comes with the backing of a judge’s order.


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

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