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ASSESSOR EYES VILLAS AS COMMERCIAL PROPERTY

Jan. 25, 2002 – Plans to assess vacation villas as commercial rather than residential property for tax purposes are in the works, Tax Assessor Roy Martin told listeners Friday at a meeting of the Rotary Club of St. John.
Such a move would impact St. John particularly, because the island has several hundred vacation villas. Most are owned by mainland residents who may visit for a week or two during the year.
Martin said his office will be able to identify which houses are vacation villas because the owners are required to have a business license to operate them as short-term rentals. Also, he noted, most V.I. owner-occupants apply for the $250-a-year homestead exemption available to owners who live full-time in their homes.
He announced that the Lieutenant Governor's Office, which oversees the Tax Assessor's Office, is planning to set up shop on St. John. He did not give a start-up date but said personnel to staff the office are now being hired.
And, he said, the Lieutenant Governor's Office is working on a plan to permit Internet access to its public records, for a fee.
Martin, guest speaker for the weekly Rotary luncheon, spent most of his time at the lectern offering a primer of tax assessor activities. Territorywide, he said, the government collects $59.1 million in property taxes, and $5.2 million of it comes from St. John.
Various tax exemptions, including those for federal lands and not-for-profit organizations, total $65.2 million throughout the territory, with $29.9 million for St. John, he said. The relatively high figure for St. John is because the V.I. National Park occupies much of the island.
Asked about Economic Development Commission benefits by Ed Bermingham, Martin said that territorywide companies receive $35 million in EDC exemptions. Of that figure, $1.6 million is for businesses on St. John.
There were only a few other questions from the approximately two dozen Rotarians and guests gathered at the Westin Resort. One concerned how new, not-yet-finished houses are assessed. Martin said that homeowners are billed based on the value of the house as of the close of the tax year on Jan. 15, even if they haven't moved into it.
Craig Barshinger asked Martin if his office is working on a plan to prevent homeowners from losing their homes if their taxes rise to more than they can pay. That, the assessor replied, would be a matter to take up with senators.
Martin noted that taxes are adjusted every five years and may be increased no more than 10 percent over the previous tax bill.

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