U.S. Appeals Court Upholds New V.I. Property Tax Bills

The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit Friday, granted the Government of the Virgin Islands’ Motion to Stay District Court Chief Judge Curtis Gomez’s September 11, 2008 Contempt Order rescinding all 2006 property tax bills in a decision announced Saturday, October 11.

The suspension of the September 11 Order not only allows for the Government to re-issue 2006 Property Tax Bills at newly assessed values, but also allows tax payers to take advantage of the many tax exemptions provided by Act 6991.

In granting the Government’s Motion to Stay, the Third Circuit has restrained the District Court from imposing or enforcing the fees and sanctions set forth in Judge Gomez’s Order.  The Third Circuit ruling restricts the District Court from requiring the Commissioner of Finance to establish a “Property Tax Contempt Expense Fund” to be funded from property tax revenues up to $100,000. The Stay also limits the District Court from mandating that the Government pay into the registry of the Court, a per diem fine of $5,000 from the date of the Order.

Additionally, the Stay Order freezes the awarding of any and all damages merited to the Plaintiffs by the District Court. The Third Circuit Stay Order will remain in place pending the resolution of the Government’s Appeal.

The Stay Order will allow the Virgin Islands to collect the revenues necessary to fully finance the Fiscal Year 2009 Executive Budget and to provide Virgin Islands residents with essential government services, according to Attorney General Vincent Frazer.

Frazer will meet early next week with Tax Assessor Roy Martin, Lieutenant Governor Gregory Francis, Governor John de Jongh, Jr. and members of their staff to determine when the 2006 Property Tax Bills will be re-issued and the method by which those revenues will be collected.

 “The Appeal of the District Court decision will continue as this case is not only about the collection of property taxes but is also an assertion of the Territory’s political autonomy,” Frazer said.

Virgin Islands residents are encouraged to pay their 2006 Property Tax Bills in a timely fashion and to file all appeals with Tax Assessor’s Office. The Board of Tax Review will take up pending appeals on a consistent basis.