Aug. 25, 2005 — The announcement of the sale of 37 properties by the Department of Finance, now appearing in the local government section of the Source, reflects badly on the department‛s current and past practices.
In the first place, the degree of non-payment of taxes tolerated by the government is, frankly, astounding. Of the 37 properties listed in the notice, 31 of them have ten or more years of tax due. In one case, that of the property at 37 Estate Contant, 7A Southside Quarter, no tax (the notice tells us) was paid for twenty-five consecutive years, from 1979 through 2003.
Is it any wonder that the territorial government is hard up for funds?
Secondly, the notice itself is unlikely to stir the broad bidding that anyone selling something at an auction wants. The more bidders, the better the price, all else being equal.
Typically, on the mainland, when a sale for delinquent taxes is announced, the readers of the notice are given a little information about the ground rules. Are there lower limits beneath which no deal takes place? What are the terms? Must you bring cash or will a personal check be sufficient? Or must it be a cashier‛s check? How many days does the successful bidder have to come up with the full amount of the purchase price?
Further, when you seek to sell real estate you typically want potential bidders to know something about the property in question. How large is the property? Does it have a structure on it?
How much are the past taxes that must be met?
The department, one hopes, desires to get as much for these properties as possible, and does not want the bidding restricted to real estate insiders, who are perhaps the only people who have the answers to the questions noted above.
Further, while the parcel numbers are listed in the notice, that does not do as much good (in terms of providing information) as it would in many Mainland jurisdictions where the parcel numbers would provide abundant information on each property via the Internet. One presumably would have to go to the department‛s own paper files to find out about the properties. And where are these files? The notice does not say.
Finally, and this may not be a problem for the residents of the islands, I could not tell from reading the notice on which island the properties are located. Is the current set of 37 a group of St. Thomas properties, or are they spread among all the islands?
The 37 properties currently for sale must be a tiny fraction of those with three or more years of delinquent taxes. Maybe the Department of Finance will do a better job when it next announces such a sale.
Editor's note: : David North, who writes for the Source from time to time, was, for more than a decade, the chair of the Board of Real Estate Tax Appeals in Arlington, Va.
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