March 7, 2005 – When the Tax Assessor's office completes its upcoming residential property reassessment, St. John residents should find enormous increases in their property taxes, Sen. Craig Barshinger said Monday at a meeting of the Coral Bay Community Council.
"It could go from $500 to $5,000," he said.
Barshinger, Sen. Roosevelt David and Sen. Louis P. Hill addressed the approximately 50 people gathered for the monthly meeting at the John's Folly Learning Institute.
The senators agreed that there were no easy answers to a problem that could force St. John residents to sell their homes because they can no longer afford the taxes.
"It's an acute social dilemma. You have a community that may be displacing themselves," Hill said.
Several solutions were tossed out for discussion.
Barshinger suggested that land not be taxed. Instead, people would pay taxes only on the value of the property improvements.
"Then a big hotel nearby would not price you out," he said.
Or, he suggested people pay the same rate for all the years they owned the house. He also suggested a system where everybody is taxed at the same rate, but some people get a subsidy for using the land for things like agriculture or if they qualified for a homestead exemption.
Hill said he's looking at a system used in Broward County, Fla., that caps tax increases at a specific amount until the owner sells.
Hugo Roller, who owns a farm in Coral Bay, suggested that instituting municipal government would allow St. John to set its own tax schedule. He said that since issues like zoning would be decided locally, the island would better be able to deal with property taxes.
"That's simply shifting responsibility," Hill countered.
The senators also talked about what they want to accomplish during their term.
David said he is pushing for a bill to help the 26,000 people in the Virgin Islands who don't have health insurance.
He said he also was working toward full autonomy for the territory's hospitals.
Hill said he hopes to reform the Government Employees Retirement System.
"If GERS collapses, it will have a huge economic impact," he said, mentioning grocery stores as one type of business that will suffer.
He said that without intervention, GERS will collapse in 10 years.
Barshinger said he has a bill in the hopper to paint directional arrows at roadway intersections. When there are no intersections, the arrows will be painted every one-quarter mile. This will help solve problems caused by tourists used to driving on the right-hand side of the road rather than the left.
He also called for an enforcement of laws that mandate how many parking spaces new commercial buildings must have. This would help with Cruz Bay's parking problem.
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