July 21, 2005 If you see a stranger in your neighborhood, it might be someone from the Tax Assessor's Office revaluing your property.
Visits began July 18 in Smith Bay, St. Thomas and Strawberry Hill, St. Croix. Tax Assessor Roy L. Martin said Thursday that notices will be sent out through the local media advising residents when the data collectors will work in their area.
The residential property revaluation is necessary because in May 2003 the U.S. District Court ordered the territory to change how it calculates property taxes.
"As a result, our teams are required to go door to door to get current information on every residence in the territory," Martin said.
Both improvements and land will now be taxed based on actual market value. Martin said previously land was taxed based on market value, but improvements the buildings – were taxed based on replacement cost. The two were combined to create one tax bill.
This change came as a result of a suit filed by St. Thomas business owners who challenged what the saw as unfair assessments of commercial properties.
The information gathered during the revaluation will be used to calculate 2005 property taxes. Bills will go out in June 2006.
Martin said the data collection should wrap up in March. He said property owners will then get an impact notice telling them about the new value of their home. He said the impact notice will go out before the bills to give property owners a chance to question its new value.
He said it's too soon to know how much property tax bills will increase.
Martin said the government hired a McClean, Va.-based company named Bearing Point to revalue homes. Martin said the contract is valued at $6.5 million.
He said data collectors will visit every home to get information about age, size, physical condition, and other characteristics. They will also photograph property exteriors.
Martin said they will travel by boat to outlying cays. Additionally, he said they will hunt down shanties built off the beaten track without building permits.
Martin said that when it comes to vacation villas owned by off-island people, the data collectors will call on the property managers to provide access.
"The data collectors are not being nosy. It is very important that people understand that we are required to obtain detailed and accurate information to fulfill the court's mandate," he said.
He said that if the property owner does not let the data collector on the property, data will be estimated. In other words, you'll get a property tax bill even if you don't cooperate.
If no one is home when the data collectors visit, they will measure and record information about the exterior of the property where it is accessible. A tag will be left on your door to indicate that a visit as made.
Should you have a big dog that keeps the data collectors totally off your property, you'll get a tag on your gate.
Residents should call the number on the tag to make an appointment for a data collector to return.
"The more accurate and up-to-date the information, the more accurate the property bill," Martin said.
He said that there are no plans for the data collectors to work Saturdays so they can access properties where people are out during the week. However, he said that should it become necessary, Saturday visits will be included.
He asked that property owners cooperate should the data collector need to go inside the house.
The data collectors will be easily identifiable. They'll wear either light blue, dark blue or orange polo shirts sporting the Tax Assessor's logo, carry V.I. Property Revaluation identification cards and drive vehicles sporting that same identification.
Martin said there are 25 people to value property on St. Thomas, St. John, Water Island and the outlying cays. St. Croix has a similar number. Of the 50 people on the job, a dozen of them work for the Tax Assessor's Office. The rest are employed by Bearing Point, but hired locally.
He said that while they currently are traveling singly, as more data collectors are hired, they'll go out in pairs.
Property owners who want to verify the data collector's identity should call the Tax Assessor's office at 776-2859 on St. Thomas or on St. Croix at 773-6449, ext. 3118.
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