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V.I. Government Finally Gets OK to Issue Old Property-Tax Bills

June 4, 2008 — A recent settlement that would enable the government to issue 2006 property-tax bills by the end of the month is the "beginning of the end" to a long-standing court case that challenges whether the territory's property-tax system is fair and "equitable," according to government officials.
In 2000, a group of commercial property owners took the V.I. government to court, alleging the government was assessing commercial properties based on replacement rather than actual property value — a method, they said, that resulted in inflated assessments. Thomas Moore, then the sitting U.S. District Court judge, agreed, and in 2003 ordered the government to conduct a thorough revaluation of commercial and residential properties.
Meanwhile, property-tax values were frozen at 1998 levels until the project was complete and a new assessment system — which had to be certified by a court-appointed special master — was put in place. The court case prevented the government from issuing property tax bills for 2006 and 2007.
While no final decision has been made in the case, an agreement ironed out Tuesday by attorneys representing the property owners and V.I. government will allow one set of bills to be issued this year. The bills, which are estimated to bring in nearly $60 million in revenue for the government, will reflect newly assessed property values and a rate structure signed into law months ago by Gov. John deJongh Jr.
"We expect to get through this billing cycle, and by that time, hope that the case would be finished so we can send out the next set of bills," said Attorney General Vincent Frazer on Wednesday. "In a couple of weeks we are going to be attending an evidenciary hearing on the special master's report, so it seems that we may be getting to the end of this case."
Members of the governor's financial team have recently said the inability to issue bills during fiscal year 2008 have cut down on millions of dollars needed to sustain this year's budget.
"This agreement would definitely help us in the area of revenues," Frazer said. "To issue at least one bill during FY 2008 — that's all we needed to do right now. The parties also agreed that we would expedite the hearing of any appeals filed under these bills, so that way we can ensure taxpayers would be provided with due process and make sure their appeals wouldn't get stuck in the pending 400-plus cases that we still have to deal with."
Residents filing appeals would have to make sure they have "at least" paid their 2005 property-tax bills, Frazer said.
The government is committed to expediting the appeal process, Lt. Gov. Gregory R. Francis said in a statement issued Wednesday afternoon. The Office of the Tax Assessor has also begun to issue delinquency notices for taxes owed up to 2005, he said.
An amnesty program, which waives all interest and penalties on taxes owed before and up to 2005, is currently in effect until the end of September. Throughout the territory, almost 47,000 parcels of property have a delinquent tax status. These delinquencies amount to more than $50 million in taxes owed to the V.I. government, according to a recent release issued by the Tax Assessor's Office.
Residents interested in setting up a payment plan may also contact the collections office at the Department of Finance in both districts. All delinquent property taxes must by paid by the end of the amnesty period, according to the release.
Residents with questions on the status of their property, or who believe they have been incorrectly reported as delinquent, can visit the collections office at Finance to provide proof of payment, or contact the Tax Assessor's Office to request copies of bills for individual tax years.
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