Aug. 15, 2003 – Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards, in his capacity as acting governor while Gov. Charles W. Turnbull is off island, signed two executive orders on Friday directing Tax Assessor Roy Martin to send out residential and commercial property tax bills for 2002 based on the lifting this week of a District Court injunction imposed in May.
District Judge Thomas K. Moore ruled on Wednesday that a recently enacted law is sufficient to provide protection to taxpayers against erroneous large tax assessments until the system is completely overhauled.
On that basis, Moore ended his moratorium on both sending out tax bills and collecting on them from 1999 onward until an independent "Special Master" appointed by the court certifies that the territory's tax assessment system is equitable and reliable in determining the actual value of property. (See "Judge: Property tax collections can resume".)
The new legislation provides the mechanism Moore sought to allow for the collecting of taxes while the government's property valuation system is being reformed to comply with his orders. In a series of rulings in recent years, he has agreed with plaintiffs that the government's practice of assessing commercial property on the basis of replacement cost rather than market value is illegal. The new law provides for refunds to be made to taxpayers whose property valuations are later found to have been inflated and for retroactive billings to be made where owners are found to have been underbilled.
In a release from the Lieutenant Governor's Office on Friday, Richards said all 2002 property tax bills are to be sent out by Aug. 31, except — in keeping with Moore's Friday ruling — for those involved in ongoing litigation. Payment will be due on Oct. 31, and late fees and penalties will accrue on a monthly basis after Nov. 30, the release stated.
"I am extremely pleased by the District Court's ruling," Richards said, calling Moore's decision "timely" and noting that it "allows the government to collect much-needed outstanding revenues."
He also noted that the legislation acted upon by the Senate had been submitted by his office as well as that of the governor.
In the executive orders, Richards directed Martin to include with the tax bills an explanation regarding the fact that the 2002 billings are on the basis of 1998 assessments and that they will be subject to adjustment retroactively under the new law.
Richards said Martin "is working closely with the Special Master" and expects to issue a request for proposals in September for a new computer system which "will address the implementation steps imposed by the court order."
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