The Virgin Islands Bureau of Internal Revenue’s collection rates are up this fiscal year, with a 7 percent increase in total revenue collections and a 20 percent increase in outstanding balance collections compared to the 2019 fiscal year, said BIR Director Joel Lee at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Thursday.
Lee attributes the uptick in collections of owed and un-filed taxes to a new canvassing tactic being utilized by the bureau. “Traditionally we have been pushing paper, but now we have gotten feet on the ground,” he said.
The bureau’s Delinquent Accounts and Returns branch, which is responsible for collecting owed and un-filed taxes, has collected nearly $37.5 million so far in fiscal year 2020, and Lee said the branch has also secured 1,959 un-filed delinquent returns.
“What I have started is a very simple thing called canvassing. We show up deep and want to talk right then and there. We don’t care who is in the establishment or what is going on. That has been pretty effective because I guess business owners don’t want that embarrassment and they don’t want that stigma of ‘why are they coming here’ and ‘are they going to come back.’ That simple thing has encouraged a lot of other business, I think, to come forth because they are not used to that approach,” Lee said.
Senators said they were pleased with the collection attempts made by the bureau, of which revenues primarily go to replenishing the General Fund.
Lee also updated the committee on both the recent round of issued stimulus checks, as well as the potential second round of stimulus checks.
While the bureau has processed 41,356 checks that total over $64 million in stimulus payments, Lee said there is still money that needs to be disbursed before the December 2020 deadline.
If Virgin Islands residents have not received their stimulus payment, Lee said they should visit the bureau’s office, “because we can’t do anything with it but give it to eligible residents. We want to give it out.”
Though phone lines are inundated, Lee said the bureau has not been closed and is available to help residents receive their stimulus payment.
“There is no question that the residents of the Virgin Islands are entitled to and deserve to receive their stimulus checks as quickly as possible,” Lee said. He added that should a second round of stimulus payments be approved by the federal government the bureau is ready to execute and disburse payments quickly.
Lee also gave an update on tax refunds, saying in FY 2019 17,682 taxpayers received tax refunds, and this fiscal year 20,879 taxpayers have received their refunds in the collective amount of $55 million.
“Despite the economic challenges, it continues to be my objective to ensure that the taxpayers receive the refunds that they are owed,” Lee said.
Lee said one of his goals for the upcoming fiscal year is to provide online services to include the filing of income tax returns in order to free up much of the bureau’s time for other pursuits. He said the bureau is aiming to have the services finished by the next income tax filing season.
Additionally, Lee presented the bureau’s projected 2021 fiscal year budget of nearly $12 million, which he said shows an 11 percent decrease from the prior year’s budget of just over $13 million. The budget, which comes solely from the General Fund, is used for personnel costs that total nearly $6.5 million, $3 million for fringe benefits and $2.5 million for supplies, capital expenditures and other services.
Sens. Kurt Vialet, Donna Frett-Gregory, Janelle Sarauw, Marvin Blyden, Oakland Benta and Dwayne DeGraff were present for the Finance hearing. Sen. Allison DeGazon was absent.