May 21, 2009 – "Appeal, appeal, appeal" were the words from Lieutenant Gov. Gregory Francis and other government officials when St. John residents complained Thursday about what they see as an unfair property tax hit.
"We're not in the business of taking property," Francis told the 75 people gathered at the Gifft Hill School for another in a series of neighborhood meetings held by the local government's executive branch.
He and others suggested that if residents think their property valuations are too high, they should ask for a revaluation. If the tax bill is too high, they can appeal to the Board of Tax Review, Francis said.
Francis added that payment plans can be worked out if people can't pay their total bill when it's due.
Bethany resident Gloria Samuel asked if St. John and St. Thomas are considered one district, why isn't the base value used in calculating property values the same.
"St. John had a very robust market," Simon Caines, the lieutenant governor's policy advisor, said. Had is the operative word, several St. John residents pointed out. Since the U.S. District Court-ordered property revaluations were finished in 2006, the bottom has fallen out of St. John's real estate industry.
And Sen. Craig Barshinger said that St. John's properties were valued at $360 a square foot compared to the $90 a square foot figure used on St. Thomas. He said that those figures were based on about 15 houses sold during the revaluation year, with all but one of them over $1 million. He suggested average full-time St. John residents live in houses valued at much less.
"Everybody knows the revaluations are ridiculous. We're average people with a few millionaires living here." Barshinger said.
Barshinger said that a bill now in the Legislature will set the square-foot value used in the St. John property valuations at $93 a square foot.
When Barshinger said that of the $47 million the government expects to collect when the 2006 property tax bills are paid when by July 1, $20 million will come from St. John, Government House advisor Luis Sylvester said the figure was incorrect. He said he did not have another figure at his fingertips.
When the meeting got hot, Francis cut off discussion by saying that because the property tax matter was still before the court, he couldn't discuss it further.
"I think we need to move on with this subject," he said.
Asked after the meeting about the St. John-based Unity Day Group's District Court suit that essentially asked that all properties be revalued because the original revaluation was flawed, he again said he couldn't discuss it because it was in the courts.
Numerous topics came up at the meeting, including the usual road issues, but Jah-Haile Bruce, 10, got everyone's attention when he asked about what the government was going to do about gang violence.
Deputy Police Chief Darren Foy asked that parents pay attention to what colors their children wear.
"And what friends are they hanging around with and what are they watching on TV," he said.
Assistant Police Commissioner Novelle Francis followed up by noting that the matter is a priority for the government.
"There will be legislation coming," he said.
While the press release from St. John Administrator Leona Smith announcing the neighborhood meeting indicated that Gov. John deJongh Jr. would attend, he did not appear.
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