Dupont family reign at assessor’s office ends

Deidre Cruse
Ibervile Parish Assessor James H. "Jimmy" Dupont begins his retirement in January after 36 years in office. His nine terms surpassed served by his father, Joseph H. Dupont, who served from 1936-1974.

Tax Assessor James H. “Jimmy” Dupont left office this week after nine terms in the office, and feeling good about the operation he is leaving to his successor, John Randall “Randy” Sexton.

“I’m ready to go,” Dupont said.  Where he will go is basically across the street to the Railroad Avenue law office he shares with his nephew, Joseph Dupont Jr.

For most of the past eight decades, a member of the Dupont family has been the Tax Assessor for Iberville Parish. His uncle held the job for 10 years, and his father died in his ninth term in the office. Dupont, first elected at age 26 as one of youngest assessors, took office two years later. Last year, he decided not to run again.

Sexton officially becomes the new assessor today. He’ll take the oath of office at 5 p.m. Monday at the Courthouse.

“I’m leaving him a half a million dollar surplus, a state of the art computing system and 10 good employees,” Dupont said. “...I’m leaving this office in very good shape, which is what I would want someone to do for me.”

Sexton, doubtless, will have an easier introduction to the office than did Dupont, who took office during the labor-management struggles of the early 1970s. He was not part of the labor-oriented Courthouse crowd that backed Edwin Edwards for governor. Dupont had to wait for a year and a half after his election to take office, even though the interim assessor had left for a job as parish secretary-treasurer.

“But, the governor wouldn’t appoint me,” he said. “At the time it seemed like a big deal.”

Later, in 1984, when the new Courthouse opened, the parish government hired someone to move all the offices – except the assessor’s.

“Everyone moved out of the old Courthouse [the current Plaquemine City Hall], and they didn’t tell us they were moving,” Dupont said. “We had to move ourselves.”

Those difficult moments have not soured him on politics, though he said he has “seen politics make people bitter, drive people crazy.”

“I have no regrets,” Dupont said.

Now that he is leaving, the big issue, he said is the new 31-mill School Board tax.

“I thought I’d be taking it easier the last couple of weeks, but this is our busy time,” he said.

Apparently, he has been doing a lot explaining about how he assessor’s office doesn’t set the tax rate, only the assessments.

“We have a say-so on how they raise the money, but none on how it is spent,” Dupont said.

“Iberville is a very, very rich parish,” he said, because there is so much industry here. “If we spent the money the correct way, we could have the best of everything.”

Dupont said that he hoped his legacy would be that he tried to keep assessments equal among every class of property owner – industry, small business, homeowners, agriculture and the rest.

In many instances, he said, legislative lobbyists have too much say on how rates are computed for the various classes.

Taxpayers, however, can have a say on how the money is spent, Dupont said.

“If you’re unsatisfied about how they’re spending our money, go talk to them,” he said.

Dupont said the new School Board tax is the largest single tax ever levied here.

Some 20 years ago, voters approved a 20-mill tax for a school construction and consolidation program.

“They built new schools, and that was supposed to fix the school system,” Dupont said. “They will use the 30-mill tax to build more schools. Some people have questioned it.”

“If you’re not happy with it call your School Board member,” Dupont said. “It’s between the taxpayer and the School Board. They don’t consult me on anything.”

Ultimately, he said, he would like to see the electorate more involved locally, and he plans to stay active himself.

“I hope to stay active in the community,” he said. “...I’m not ruling out politics for good, but I don’t envision that. I’m not going to say never.