June 6, 2002 – Relief is proposed for the Tax Assessor's Office in legislation sent to the Senate by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull that would provide for assessing commercial properties every two years instead of annually, as is now the case.
Turnbull sent the legislation at the behest of Lt. Gov. Gerard Luz James II, who had blasted the governor recently for not releasing funds to the tax assessor for the timely resolution of tax disputes. Earlier legislation appropriated $1.7 million to the Tax Assessor's Office so it could release the taxes within a reasonable time frame. The office was under order by a District Court judge to reassess disputed property taxes within 60 days.
The legislation Turnbull is proposing now would give further relief to the Tax Assessor's Office both by making assessments biennial and by maintaining commercial real property taxes for the 2001 tax year at the values assessed for the 2000 tax year.
Turnbull's bill is calling for biennial assessments "because the tax assessor does not have the requisite manpower to engage in an annual assessment process," a Government House release stated.
"The Office of the Tax Assessor is currently modifying its valuation procedures to achieve compliance with a court-sanctioned settlement agreement entered into with certain commercial property owners," Turnbull's transmittal letter to the Senate noted. "Until the new valuation models are fully developed and approved by the court-appointed Special Master, it would be foolhardy for the tax assessor to engage in the reassessment of commercial properties."
The bill also would amend the V.I. Code to clarify the status of appraisers employed by the Tax Assessor's Office.
James issued his own press release Thursday afternoon saying he had written to Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd "urging him to act" on the governor's bill. "The Tax Assessor's Office is now subject to oversight by a Special Master in the wake of the settlement of the Berne lawsuit," he wrote. "The lack of funding and the importance of amending the existing law make it increasingly difficult for the Tax Assessor's Office to come in compliance with the court decree."
For background on the settlement agreement between the Tax Assessor's Office and Berne Corp., which filed suit in District Court in 2000 claiming that the value of several of its business properties had been grossly inflated for tax purposes, see "Models for mass tax assessment recommended".
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