July 20, 2004 – Years of taxpayer litigation and government appeals might end with a property tax system that, in the words of Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards, is "transparent and accurate."
Richards outlined in a press conference Tuesday the two-year real estate re-evaluation project that has been initiated as a result of the lawsuit filed in July 2000. (See "Appeals Court Upholds Moore in Property Tax Rulings".)
A contract was awarded to BearingPoint earlier this year to meet the mandated property evaluation procedures outlined by the court.
Joseph Eckert, director of BearingPoint, said the time-consuming part of the project would be the gathering of accurate information.
Tax Assessor Roy Martin said he expects to have as many as 60 workers going to every V.I. property starting in September. He said the information they collect will be used for sending out tax bills next year.
However, the system being put in place is not designed for a one-time evaluation. Eckert said that once the system is in place, evaluations can be updated "instantaneously." He said, "You will never be in the position you are in now."
Richards also emphasized the permanence of the system and added, "What is exciting for us is that we will be empowering local people to take it over."
Eckert said that is important to his company, too. He said, "This is a team project. We want to transfer our professional skills to your professionals before we leave."
Although real-estate evaluation is the key to determining the taxes a property owner will pay, the officials at the press conference shied away from the question of whether the changes mean taxes will go up or down.
Richards said, "We really don't know."
He explained that the project is more than just property re-evaluation. He said it will ensure up-to-date ownership data for properties. It will include a modern computer system for the government. It will have a dedicated telephone line for residents who have questions about their taxes. And it will include methods for residents to see exactly how their taxes and their neighbors' taxes were calculated.
Responsibility for the $6.5 million project is divided between government agencies and contractors.
The Office of the Tax Assessor will be responsible for collecting the data by hiring a local work force. It also will be responsible for the project infrastructure — computer network, software licenses, the Geographic Information System, office space and transportation.
BearingPoint, drawing on its experience from carrying out other similar projects, will manage the project and determine property valuation. Eckert said this system has been developing for over 20 years and is in operation in 48 states.
Sigma Systems Technology, a subcontractor, will oversee data management, valuation software and the interface with GIS.
CAVU Corp. responsibilities include parcel management, tax accounts, revenues and collection.
Richards said, "The litigation is effectively finished. All that remains is implementing the mandates of the court order."
Earlier this month legislators had questioned whether the tax assessor was correct in awarding the contract to BearingPoint without consulting the Senate. (See "Senators: Tax Assessor Needed to Submit Contract".) Richards said, "We followed the correct procedures in awarding this contract."
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