FILE - Shreveport

Downtown Shreveport on the Red River.

The first term mayor of Shreveport, Democrat Ollie Tyler, has become the focus of a lawsuit against the city over what has become known as the “Tyler taxes.”

The Homeowners Association for the Haven subdivision in Southeast Shreveport filed the lawsuit against the city in Caddo District Court alleging that residents were improperly overcharged for services under the guise of “sales taxes,” or “Tyler taxes.”

The Briarwood Apartment owners joined the lawsuit, and both parties are seeking reimbursement and damages. One attorney said he would request that the judge declare the lawsuit as a class action.

According to the lawsuit, the city charged the association and apartment group fees unrelated to their utility usage "under the pretext" that the additional charges were state sales taxes. Assessing sales taxes on top of additional charges falls outside of the law, the lawsuit claims. These charges include "water customer charge," "sewer quantity charge," "sewer customer charge" and "security fees," according to the lawsuit. These fees always appeared on a water bill, the lawsuit claims, regardless of how much water is used, if at all.

The Haven Homeowners Association sent a letter to all of its residents explaining the lawsuit. The letter states, “Our Board of Directors have a duty to prudently pursue and collect all monies due to it. The fact is the city owes the association a large amount of money.

“In July, 2015 the state legislature removed the utilities exemption from state sales taxes for WATER ONLY for all commercial accounts in the state. The exemption for sewage remained in place. Thus the city was only authorized to tax ‘water consumption.’ However the city placed the sales tax on the entire bill including sewage charges, meter fees, recycling fees and other misc. charges. This resulted in the Haven paying an estimated $25,000 to $30,000.”

The lawsuit claims the city collected between $2.5 million and $3.5 million in excess taxes from water and sewer services since 2015.

Mayor Tyler is up for re-election this fall, competing against seven opponents: Anna Marie Arpino, Tremecius Dixon, Steven Jackson, Adrian Perkins, Jeron Rogers, Lee O. Savage, and Jim Taliaferro.

In a recent candidate forum hosted by moderator John Lorick, the candidates were asked if they would order an independent audit of Shreveport’s water and other departments, in light of the current lawsuit. Everyone answered "yes" except for Tylor.

She replied, “I think some of your comments, Mr. Lorick, is (sic) probably incorrect. I mean it’s the way you asked the question. It’s like: ‘How often do you beat your wife?'”

Lorick then asked Tyler for a “simple yes or no answer.” She replied, “You’re asking that question as if something has been done wrong. Mr. Lorick, if nothing has been done wrong, I will not be doing an audit.”

He continued, “But for the sake of the people, having transparency and knowing the facts – you would not do that?”

Tyler replied that her administration was “more transparent than anybody else. If something has been done wrong, we will do the audit when I’m re-elected.”

After the forum, KEEL 101.7 FM asked Tylor to clarify her position. She stated that her comments were taken out of context and that her administration would perform an audit if she were re-elected. She also stated that the City of Shreveport “is currently working to correct any billing errors and has selected a new billing company.” Her office also plans to hire an accounting firm to determine if overages did occur, Tylor added.

The association’s letter states that the Mayor's Office has not responded to attempts to settle the matter before the lawsuit was filed. Additionally, the city charged the association and apartment group higher rates until January 2018. Corrections were made to only charge the allegedly improper tax solely on water consumption and security fees.

The suit alleges that the city kept the improper fees it collected and did not report them to the State Revenue Department.

The plaintiffs are seeking an injunction to prevent the city from collecting further improper charges and from potentially threatening to, or not providing, water or sewer services.