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Tax Rates Will Probably Change, Assessor Tells St. John Group

Aug. 10, 2007 — Tax Assessor Roy Martin told the members of the Rotary Club of St. John Friday that tax rates could be set differently for each island, but he offered no guarantees.
"The repeal of the federal law could allow this to be done," he told the two dozen members and guests gathered at the Westin Resort and Villas Beach Cafe for the Rotary Club's weekly meeting. Martin was referring to the recent decision by the U.S. Congress to repeal a 1936 law that, in essence, prevents the territory from setting its own tax rates.
If different rates get set for different islands to help St. John residents, property owners on St. Thomas and St. Croix will be up in arms, said one Rotary member, who called after the meeting to say he didn't want his name used because he feared repercussions. So far St. John rates appear to have risen much higher than those on the other islands in the recent real-estate revaluation.
The matter would likely go to court if rates are customized for St. John, the man said. "The people who are going to make out are lawyers," he said.
It is unlikely the current assessment ratio of 60 percent coupled with the tax rate of 1.25 percent will stand, Martin said. Bearing Point, the company that managed the revaluation, has hired a subcontractor to make tax-rate recommendations, he said. He did not know the subcontractor's name.
A recommendation for a new tax rate will probably be made in 30 to 45 days, Martin said. It will then go to Gov. John deJongh Jr. for his approval before the Legislature takes up the matter. Martin anticipates the new tax rate will be set at a figure that will reduce the impact on property owners.
"I don't want property owners to panic," he said. People are already panicking, countered the man who asked not to be identified.
Martin also expects reinstatement of exemptions for homesteads, veterans, seniors and the elderly. After the meeting, he said a steady stream of people — but not an avalanche — have contacted the Tax Assessor's Offices to appeal their recently received revaluation notices.
"I thought people would be standing in the street around the corner," he said.
Martin urged property owners who find errors or disagree with their revaluation to be proactive by contacting the office. Although the staff is dedicated to the appeal process until Aug. 17, property owners won't be shut out of an appeal if they don't contact the offices by that date, he said. No deadline has been set for extension of the appeal process, he said.
Revaluation staff will visit property owners who find problems in their revaluations, Martin said.
"That information will be reviewed and, if needed, corrections made," he said.
The values included in the revaluation notices will be updated to reflect 2006 sales figures before the 2006 tax bills go out, Martin said. After the meeting, he said he anticipated the 2006 tax bills will go out in October or November and will include the revaluation figures.
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