Parish tax assessor to modernize office

DERON TALLEY, EDITOR @dvillechief
M.J. “Mert” Smiley, Jr. sitting at his desk at the Ascension Parish Courthouse in Donaldonville.

When M.J. “Mert” Smiley, Jr. was elected into office as the Ascension Parish Tax Assessor he was given an opportunity to make some changes with the way things had been perceived about his newly acquired position. The notion that one side of the river doesn’t get its due diligence should be erased because Smiley said he’s here to bridge the gap.

Smiley was elected in November 2011, but wasn’t sworn into office until January 2013, the longest time span an official is elected before taking office. His job is to document every parcel of land, house and business in the parish.

“It’s a dawning job,” Smiley said, because there are over 50,000 parcels of land in the parish.

He doesn’t send out the tax bill, that’s the sheriff’s job.

Before Smiley took office, he was hired to work in the office and see how the flow of the office works, sort of like an internship. While in that role, Smiley said he noticed a few things he’d like to change when the office was his. He noticed a small staff, an old courthouse, and an outdated website.

“They didn’t have enough people to do the job properly,” Smiley said about the small staff. “I know that because I checked with other assessor’s offices who have the same amount of work to do and they had way more employees.”

So, he hired more people to help the citizens get better rates on their land. He modernized the website.

He said the current website isn’t very “user-friendly” and they are redoing it. Again. He looked at other assessor’s websites and saw theirs were more efficient.

“This is going to help people be able take care all of the assessor’s business online,” Smiley said. “They won’t even have to come into the office.”

When the website is finished, Smiley believes it will be the most modern in the state.

As far as the old courthouse, he found many old records that are in manilla folders. He discovered none of the information was saved electronically. He hired a scanning company to come in to scan the information to save it electronically. It should all be finished by March.

“It’s going to be able to work really good with our websites because it will give people any document they need,” Smiley said.

Smiley didn’t do it just for internet availability, he did it for availability period.

“The needed to be scanned because what if a fire occurs here?” Smiley asked. ”We wouldn’t have any backups.”

Along with the few things he noticed for the needs of the people, he also extended his office hours. With extended hours and an open door policy, Smiley welcomes people to feel free to call him and visit him.

Smiley has some other things on his agenda too. He wants to get with the Louisiana Tax Commission on lightning the tax burden of homeowners who live in high flood areas. He said because they have to build their homes higher, it costs them more. He is looking for ways to cut some of that cost.

Also, Smiley is a firm believer in the Homestead Exemption and will fight for it. He wants to make it where disabled people and veterans can claim higher rates. And those who are 65 years and older he wants to give them a special exempt freeze so their assessment rates don’t increase.

Smiley took over an old regime, and he wants to modernize it and improve it for the betterment of the citizens.