St. John Residents Still Concerned; Senators Approve Property Tax Bill 10-4

Lawmakers voted, 10-4, in favor of Governor John deJongh’s revised property tax bill. The legislation, however, is still troublesome to many St. John residents and several lawmakers.

In the Thursday, February 7, special session called by deJongh, St. John residents testified they wanted a fair revaluation that would determine the correct property values for their lands. In addition, several senators pointed out careful consideration and creative steps were needed to meet the unique needs for the island of St. John, since the revaluation significantly impacts homeowners’ property values.

Residents on St. John argued they wanted a fair assessment that will determine their property values.

“We’re not against reassessment,” said St. John resident Mrytle Barry. “We’re not against property taxes. That’s what makes the economy go.”

“We want to make sure the assessed values are correct and don’t skew the model for incorrect property value,” Barry added.
Another resident urged policy makers to thoroughly review the bill before making a decision.

“I’m not against property taxes,” said Marva Applewhite when questioned by Senator Carlton Dowe. “I would like you senators to be little a creative in helping us. The problem isn’t the rate, it’s the revaluation.”

Residents had an opportunity to appeal the appraisal process, explained Senior Policy Advisor Nathan Simmonds.

“During the review process, property owners had the opportunity to call, visit or access the revaluation Web site to find out information about their new preliminary values,” said Simmonds. “This process would have allowed property owners and the revaluation office to obtain additional data that may be required to accurately determine the final values.”

Since January 18, 2008, the Committee of the Whole requested a breakdown of St. John appeals. The Lt. Governor’s office stated that 4,037 appeals were submitted. Of that number, 606 were filed, 331 properties required re-inspection of which 304 valuation changes were made.

The Tax Assessor’s office worked hard to rectify these appeals and will continue to improve the appraisal process to ensure accurate information on property values, explained Tax Assessor Roy Martin when questioned by Senator Celestino White.
“Residential properties on St. John should see a 10 to 15 percent reduction in values for 2006 to reflect the 2006 market value,” said Martin.

Senators understood St. John residents weren’t against property taxes, but their overall concern was the revaluation process used to determine their property values.

“This is a serious matter,” said Senator Louis Patrick Hill. “We need to make sure everyone comes to the table to come up with a comprehensive plan that will benefit all residents territory-wide, especially the residents on St. John.”

“In order to make the bill equitable, we need to come up with creative steps that will help the residents on St. John because it’s obvious they’re significantly impacted by the process,” agreed Senator Neville James.

To lessen the financial burden on taxpayers, the revised bill included a stipulation to allow a four month pardon for tax years 2005 and prior. The provision will grant taxpayers a penalty and interest waiver if the taxpayers pay for the delinquent tax years. The current rates — residential rate set at .00377 percent, commercial property set at .007711 percent and timeshares set at .01407 percent — contained in the bill will allow the government to increase the available homestead exemptions and set a cap on possible tax increases for homeowners.

In the proposed legislation, the base homestead exemptions increased from $250 to $400. The veterans’ exemption increased from $312.50 to $450. The mill rate for timeshares is the only category which will increase from .0075 percent to .01407 percent.

The legislation raised the income qualification from $70,000 to $90,000 for homeowners whose tax liability increased more than 125 percent. It also decreased  the minimum tax liability of property owners from $400 to $300. The bill will only issue one tax bill in 2008.

Senate President Usie Richards, and Senators Sean Michael-Malone, Liston Davis, Carlton Dowe, Louis Hill, Norman Jn Baptiste, Basil Ottley Jr., Celestino White, Alvin Williams and James Weber voted in favor of the bill.

Senators Juan Figueroa-Serville, Neville James, Terrence Nelson and Ronald Russel voted against the bill. Senator Carmen Wesselhoft was absent.