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Parish of Ascension v. State

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

July 12, 2017

PARISH OF ASCENSION
v.
STATE OF LOUISIANA AND LOUISIANA LEGISLATIVE AUDITOR

         ON APPEAL FROM THE NINETEENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT NUMBER C651293, SECTION 22, PARISH OF EAST BATON ROUGE STATE OF LOUISIANA HONORABLE TIMOTHY E. KELLEY, JUDGE

          Cody M. Martin, O'Neil J. Parenton, Jr. Counsel for Plaintiff-Appellant Parish of Ascension

          Jenifer Schaye, Angela M. Heath Counsel for Defendant-Appellee Daryl G. Purpera, in his Official Capacity as Legislative Auditor of the State of Louisiana

          BEFORE: HIGGINBOTHAM, THERIOT, AND CHUTZ, JJ.

          CHUTZ, J.

         Plaintiff-appellant, the Parish of Ascension (the Parish), appeals the trial court's judgment that concluded the Parish's attempt to increase 2016 millages was invalid due to its failure to adhere to statutory notice requirements and declared that the defendant-appellee, the State of Louisiana through the Office of the Legislative Auditor, Daryl G. Purpera (the Legislative Auditor), properly declined to certify the Parish's 2016 increased millages. We affirm.

         PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         After the quadrennial reassessment of property located within Ascension Parish, on July 7, 2016, at a duly-noticed Ascension Parish Council (the Council) meeting conducted in Donaldsonville, Louisiana, in an attempt to increase the millage rates in excess of the rates established by the Louisiana Constitution but not in excess of the prior year's maximum authorized rate as permitted by the Louisiana Constitution and statutory law, the Council adopted Ordinance No. 1, setting forth the requisite adjusted maximum rate. Although Ordinance No. 2, setting forth the rate increase as required by law (referred to as a roll forward), was set on the agenda, the Council deferred a vote on its adoption until a meeting scheduled for July 21, 2016. According to statements by council representatives at the July 7, 2016 meeting, the purpose of the deferment was to allow for further public comment.[1]

         On July 8, 2016, the Parish issued a press release to all local media newspapers and broadcast media, notifying of the postponement of the Council's vote on Ordinance No. 2 until the July 21, 2016 meeting in Gonzales. Additionally, "Notice of Public Hearing" statements were published on the Parish's website and in the Gonzales Weekly Citizen, advising the public of a hearing on July 21, 2016 "to consider millage rates."

         The Council passed Ordinance No. 2 at the July 21, 2016 meeting after considerable input from the public. After submitting the requisite items for certification, in a letter dated August 3, 2016, the Parish was advised that the Legislative Auditor would not certify the 2016 increased millage rate. The Legislative Auditor's stated reason for not certifying the increased millages was that the Parish had failed to properly comply with the legally required public notice.

         The Parish subsequently filed this lawsuit, averring entitlement to a declaratory judgment declaring its procedure of adopting Ordinance No. 1 and Ordinance No. 2 was in compliance with law and an order directing the Legislative Auditor "to roll forward the millage." Alleging that time was of the essence since "the tax rolls must be complete no later than September 8, 2016, " the Parish requested an expedited hearing. A hearing was held on October 24, 2016.[2] That same day, the trial court signed a judgment concluding that the Parish's attempt to increase the 2016 millage rates was invalid and that the Legislative Auditor properly declined to certify the increase. The Parish devolutively appealed.[3]

         DISCUSSION

         According to La. Const. Art. VII, § 23(B), following the implementation of the reappraisal and valuation required by La. Const. Art. VII, § 18(F), entitled "Reappraisal, " the millages as fixed in each such implementation shall remain in ...


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