Let Someone Else Collect Property Taxes, Senator Recommends

July 26, 2007 — Shift the collection of real property taxes to either the lieutenant governor's office or the Internal Revenue Bureau, Sen. Louis P. Hill suggested at a Senate Finance Committee meeting Thursday.
Hill, who is not a member of the Finance Committee, was upset that Finance doesn't send out notices when property owners have delinquent accounts.
"If you owe Roy L. Schneider 50 cents, you get a notice," Hill said, referring to Schneider Regional Medical Center. Whatever department handles property-tax collections must develop a process to send out delinquent notices, he said.
The lieutenant governor's office would probably be the best bet, because its Tax Assessor's office sends out property-tax bills, Hill said.
His comments came as the committee met to hear Finance Commissioner Claudette Watson-Anderson present her fiscal year 2008 budget. When pressed on what department she thought was best able to handle property-tax collections, Watson-Anderson said she would do whatever Gov. John deJongh Jr. suggested.
After she was asked for her opinion, she said, "Whoever can do the job best."
Hill said he was working on a bill to move property-tax collections out of the Finance Department. Watson-Anderson suggested that the Tax Assessor's office include a notice of back taxes when they send out property-tax bills.
Hill went on to suggest that the territory use money in the insurance guarantee fund to set up a health-insurance program for uninsured residents. That fund is essentially a savings account should an insurance company default when a disaster hits.
The fund already has the $50 million cap in it, and the government collects $15 million every year, Hill said. That excess over $50 million then goes into the General Fund.
Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson, who chaired the meeting, suggested that all residents be taxed a small amount to fund health insurance for residents who don't have it.
Watson-Anderson asked the senators to approve her total budget of $11.7 million. Of that figure, $8.4 million comes from the General Fund, with the rest from the government-insurance fund, the indirect cost fund and the internal-revenue matching fund.
Finance has 116 employees, Watson-Anderson said. A total of 91 work on St. Thomas, with 23 on St. Croix and two on St. John. The Finance Department has 22 vacant positions.
Much of the hearing was spent explaining the nuts and bolts of how Finance works. This prompted Sen. Juan Figueroa-Serville to explain that the Legislature appropriates, the Office of Management and Budget allots and Finance disburses.
Finance is working on getting the enterprise planning resource system, which links together the financial books of government entities, on track, Watson-Anderson said.
"And we're training to become more customer focused," she said.
Attending the meeting were Sens. Nelson, Figueroa-Serville, Liston Davis, Carlton Dowe, James Weber and Neville James. Sen. Ronald Russell was absent.
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