St. Thomas resident Priscilla Berry has advice for property owners across the territory: keep your property tax payment receipts; you might need them.
Like most other property owners, she got her 2008 property tax bill in the mail this week. However, when she turned the bill over she saw a message that she owed back taxes for 2006. Not so, she said. She said she paid those taxes before they were due.
“I got very upset. If I didn’t find my receipt I would have had to pay again,” she said.
St. Thomas resident Carl Sutton also got a delinquent notice on his 2008 property tax bill. His was for 2005, and he’s just as annoyed as Berry. He said he wrote the check for the 2005 bill on July 13, 2009, and wonders what happened to the money. He has his canceled check to prove he paid it.
He called the delinquent notices a fishing expedition by the government to see how much it could collect from people who paid their property taxes but can’t prove it.
“It’s your word against theirs,” he said.
Sutton recounted a long litany of grievances with the Tax Collector’s Office, including an attempt to charge him $15 when he wanted to verify that the amount on his tax bill was actually what he owed. He said he decided not to hand over the $15 and paid the amount on the bill.
Berry is even more irked that the Tax Collector’s office staff told her she’d have to trek down to the office to straighten the matter out. Since she doesn’t get paid when she doesn’t work, she’s going to lose money to set the Tax Assessor’s office straight on her property taxes.
Berry said she doesn’t think it will be a quick visit either.
“I don’t have the time to lose a day’s work,” she said.
She wondered why she has to make a personal visit to the Tax Collector’s office when the issue could be resolved quicker (and easier) via fax or email.
The person Berry spoke to apparently didn’t get the message that the Property Tax Office uses technology. Shawna Richards, spokesman at the Lieutenant Governor’s Office, said that taxpayers can fax or email their receipts, but they must first call the Tax Collector’s office to advise the clerk that they are sending the receipt. She said the clerk will tell them the fax number or the email address to use.
According to Richards, the Property Tax Division anticipates that there will be some errors for the 2006 and 2007, bills but she couldn’t give any figures as to how many. Additionally, Richards said she anticipates that the tax bills for years 2005 and before will have even more errors because that’s before the Lieutenant Governor’s Office took over supervision of property taxes.
Property tax owners who pay their 2008 bills by Aug. 5 are entitled to a 5-percent discount. If they pay by Aug. 20, they’re entitled to a 2.5-percent discount. However, the bills indicate “pay by the due date of Aug. 20 and receive early payment discounts,” with no mention of the discount percentages or the larger discount if paid by Aug. 5.
Bills are considered delinquent if they’re not paid by Oct. 20. Late payments will be assessed if they’re not paid by Jan. 20.
According to Richards, a recent count showed about 1,400 property tax payers are delinquent. However, she said that those property owners are making payments. She didn’t have a dollar figure on the amount owed.
Residents can pay property tax bills at the Tax Collector’s Offices. They’re located at the Builder’s Emporium building, located behind the Medical Foundation building on St. Thomas. On St. Croix, the offices are at Government House and 1131 King Street, Suite 101, both in Christiansted; the Finance Department in Sunny Isles and the Lagoon Street Commercial Building Number 1 in Frederiksted. On St. John, the office is in the Islandia Building in Cruz Bay.