July 2, 2004 – Tax Assessor Roy Martin came under fire from the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday because his office negotiated a contract without input from the Legislature.
During the first day of fiscal year 2005 budget hearings, Martin told the committee that the contract came about after his office was ordered in District Court to change the way it assesses real property for tax purposes. Bids were requested, he said, and Bearing Point, one of four companies that responded, was awarded the contract.
"Bearing Point will be responsible for the complete revaluation of all real property in the U.S. Virgin Islands," Martin said. "Once the revaluation project is completed, the Office of the Tax Assessor is expected to have a state-of-the art, fully automated real property tax system."
Martin said it will include a Geographic Information System component and computer links with the Recorder of Deeds offices and the Finance Department's Treasury Division, where real property taxes are collected.
Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, the Finance Committee chair, expressed concern to Martin that the Legislature had not been informed of the process by which Bearing Point was selected.
"They proceeded without the body's input," Sen. Usie Richards similarly said. He said he understood there was a court order, but nonetheless the tax office should sent the proposed contact to the Legislature "posthaste."
Martin estimated the value of the contract at $6 million and said the amount is accounted for in his FY 2005 budget request. He also said he will need to hire 40 to 60 individuals to work with Bearing Point in assessing residential properties.
Martin said he doesn't know whether property values will end up being decreased or increased, but the government has to assess every piece of property. The project is expected to be completed in 2006, he said, and so far "no decision has been made for what formula" will be employed or "what the due values will be."
"We are anticipating your favorable approval of this request, as it would meet the requirements of the District Court's approval on the company selected and the estimated costs associated to the revaluation project," Martin told the committee.
According to Martin, real property tax revenues for FY 2006 are projected at $61 million. For the 2003 tax year, 61,178 real property tax bills were mailed out in June. Martin said they are expected to generate $46.1 million.
The 2003 bills are based on 1998 assessment levels in accordance with legislation enacted a year ago to comply with requirements set by District Judge Thomas K. Moore for lifting a moratorium he had imposed on tax billings and collections after having found the territory's method of assessing property values in violation of federal law.
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