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Constitutional Convention Hears from St. John on Property-Tax Issue

April 10, 2008 — Assess real property for whatever it sold for last, St. John resident Pam Gaffin told the members of the Constitutional Convention's Taxation, Finance and Commerce Committee Thursday when they met at the Legislature building on St. John.
"If it sold in 1822 for $25, that's the assessed value," she said, as the 20 people who attended the meeting listened.
Robert Schuster, who chaired the meeting, offered up a similar idea for discussion. He suggested that land be taxed based on how long it was owned, with the longest-owning land owners paying less than people who just bought their land. The house portion of a property would be assessed at 56 cents a square foot.
"What I've proposed is just a model for the purpose of discussion," he stressed.
St. John resident Lorelei Monsanto urged a system such as that on Tortola where, in general, only people with Belonger status can buy land. There are exceptions, she pointed out, and outsiders can purchase land. She was not specific about how the system works.
Gaffin said her 580-square-foot house on three quarters of an acre was assessed at $685,000 by the Tax Assessor's Office, but real estate agents told her the market price runs $300,000 to $350,000. She paid $45,000 for the land and built the house herself.
The recent revaluation of real property on St. John is inaccurate, resulting in values that far exceed what buyers would pay for the property, Gaffin and others said.
Committee member Adelbert Bryan repeatedly said V.I. natives should be exempt from paying property taxes. Gaffin pointed out that V.I. natives include Tax Assessor Roy Martin, most of the members of the Legislature and Gov. John deJongh Jr., who approved the Legislature's bill taxing St. John residents at a much higher rate.
"They decided we are the goose that laid the golden egg," Gaffin said, referring to St. John.
The legislation sets down a variable mil rate that is the same for all islands, but because St. John's property is generally valued much higher than that on other islands, the property taxes will be far greater.
St. John residents filed a suit last week in U.S. District Court in an attempt to force the local government to reassess real property values.
"We raised the money to pay the attorney $100 at a time," Gaffin said.
Bryan repeatedly tried to pin St. John's high real estate prices on Realtors. The discussion segued into Bryan's push for St. John residents to take back land from V.I. National Park.
St. John resident Ronnie Jones agreed, adding that native land owners are squeezed out by the park and squeezed by the property taxes.
"There has to be rights for indigenous Virgin Islanders in the form of some type of exemption that starts from the period of time past," Jones said.
Bryan complained repeatedly that when he got off the ferry he didn't see any natives and that the natives didn't come out to the meeting. Monsanto indicated natives are afraid to speak out.
"The majority of the people work for the government," she said. "Their jobs are at risk."
St. John resident Paul Devine, who speaks out regularly on the need for a constitution, also addressed the issue of the territory's 4-percent gross-receipts tax. A sales tax would be more fair and easier to collect because merchants underpay their gross-receipts tax, he charged.
"People cheat," Devine said.
Tax Assessor Roy Martin showed up at the meeting long after it started, but said he had no statement to make.
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April 10, 2008 -- Assess real property for whatever it sold for last, St. John resident Pam Gaffin told the members of the Constitutional Convention's Taxation, Finance and Commerce Committee Thursday when they met at the Legislature building on St. John.
"If it sold in 1822 for $25, that's the assessed value," she said, as the 20 people who attended the meeting listened.
Robert Schuster, who chaired the meeting, offered up a similar idea for discussion. He suggested that land be taxed based on how long it was owned, with the longest-owning land owners paying less than people who just bought their land. The house portion of a property would be assessed at 56 cents a square foot.
"What I've proposed is just a model for the purpose of discussion," he stressed.
St. John resident Lorelei Monsanto urged a system such as that on Tortola where, in general, only people with Belonger status can buy land. There are exceptions, she pointed out, and outsiders can purchase land. She was not specific about how the system works.
Gaffin said her 580-square-foot house on three quarters of an acre was assessed at $685,000 by the Tax Assessor's Office, but real estate agents told her the market price runs $300,000 to $350,000. She paid $45,000 for the land and built the house herself.
The recent revaluation of real property on St. John is inaccurate, resulting in values that far exceed what buyers would pay for the property, Gaffin and others said.
Committee member Adelbert Bryan repeatedly said V.I. natives should be exempt from paying property taxes. Gaffin pointed out that V.I. natives include Tax Assessor Roy Martin, most of the members of the Legislature and Gov. John deJongh Jr., who approved the Legislature's bill taxing St. John residents at a much higher rate.
"They decided we are the goose that laid the golden egg," Gaffin said, referring to St. John.
The legislation sets down a variable mil rate that is the same for all islands, but because St. John's property is generally valued much higher than that on other islands, the property taxes will be far greater.
St. John residents filed a suit last week in U.S. District Court in an attempt to force the local government to reassess real property values.
"We raised the money to pay the attorney $100 at a time," Gaffin said.
Bryan repeatedly tried to pin St. John's high real estate prices on Realtors. The discussion segued into Bryan's push for St. John residents to take back land from V.I. National Park.
St. John resident Ronnie Jones agreed, adding that native land owners are squeezed out by the park and squeezed by the property taxes.
"There has to be rights for indigenous Virgin Islanders in the form of some type of exemption that starts from the period of time past," Jones said.
Bryan complained repeatedly that when he got off the ferry he didn't see any natives and that the natives didn't come out to the meeting. Monsanto indicated natives are afraid to speak out.
"The majority of the people work for the government," she said. "Their jobs are at risk."
St. John resident Paul Devine, who speaks out regularly on the need for a constitution, also addressed the issue of the territory's 4-percent gross-receipts tax. A sales tax would be more fair and easier to collect because merchants underpay their gross-receipts tax, he charged.
"People cheat," Devine said.
Tax Assessor Roy Martin showed up at the meeting long after it started, but said he had no statement to make.
Back Talk Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.