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Property-Tax Revaluations Through the Roof on St. John, Residents Say

July 30, 2007 — Property-tax revaluations have begun to hit mailboxes this week, and many St. John residents don’t like what they see.
Sally Powers of Bearing Point, the company that did the revaluations, put the overall average increase at 85 percent. As anticipated, it appears that St. John took a much harder hit.
"It's just astonishing," said St. John resident Aldria Wade. She hasn't received the revaluation for her Bordeaux house, but she did get one for a small piece of land she owns in Calabash Boom, Wade said. She couldn't remember the previous value, but she paid about $100 in taxes. The land is now valued at $300,000.
"It's more than tripled," she said.
Wade said there was no way she will be able to afford a big hike she anticipates in the value of her Bordeaux home. "I can see where this is going to drive people out of here," she said.
Her neighbor, Gary Emmons, agreed. The value on his wooden house went from $49,500 as an unimproved property to $645,200 with a house on it, he said, noting that the house wasn't finished.
"I'm going to sell," he said, only half joking.
An 1,100-square-foot house on a half acre at Ajax Peak on St. John was previously assessed at $187,892. The new assessment was $1.1 million, about six times what it was on the last tax bill. The homeowners made no substantive changes in the house.
An Upper Carolina, St. John resident saw her property valuation go from $227,000 to $1.1 million, while her neighbor said he received an increase of more than 500 percent.
Residents said they did not want to be identified for fear of retaliation from the Tax Assessor's Office.
One of the Upper Carolina residents said it appears the land portion of the revaluation is overinflated. While the property-revaluation notice comes with only the total new value of the property, a perusal of the information on vipropertyrevaluation.com breaks down the new total valuation into the value of the land as well as the value of the improvements.
The Upper Carolina man said his lot was valued at $523,000.
"Lots here never sold for that price, he said. “No lot on this street has sold for over $200,000.”
A lot across the street with a better view was valued at $70,000 less than his, the man said.
It also appears the revaluations contain some errors. For example, the 1,100-square-foot Ajax Peak house, which is an Estate Carolina address located in the Coral Bay area, is listed on the property-revaluation website as 2,156 square feet. Strangely, the neighborhood for all the houses on that street are listed as Carolina Zootenval. The correct spelling is Zootenvaal, and while in the Coral Bay area, the neighborhood is far removed from Ajax Peak.
St. John Administrator Leona Smith said her office got one complaint so far, but taxpayers are just now getting their notices in the mail.
Nick Bailey, a Realtor at John Foster Real Estate on St. Thomas, said he hasn't gotten the revaluation notice for his house and hasn't heard of anyone who has.
One resident of Frenchtown, St. Thomas, who did not want to be named, said the property valuation on her house went from $21,375 to $32,300. The small increase pleased her.
"I'm delighted," she said.
On St. Croix, it appears that many residential property values have gone down, said Julie San Martin, who owns the RE/Max real-estate company on St. Croix. However, she anticipates that places like Whim and Mon Bijou will see big increases because residents were paying taxes on homes valued at $20,000 when they're selling for $100,000.
"Those people will go ballistic," she said.
Roland Groder, another RE/Max Realtor, said a three-quarter-acre piece of land he owns on St. Croix went from $33,000 to $41,000. Neighbors got hit harder, however, so he said he doesn't feel so bad.
John Doleman of the V.I. Property Owners Association, whose 1,500 members mainly live on the mainland, said he's concerned that those off-island homeowners won't get their revaluation notices in time to get corrections made. (Editor’s note: This story’s author, Lynda Lohr, is editor of Island News, the association’s magazine.)
It will be very difficult for those mainland owners to deal with errors in their revaluations, Doleman said.
"It's going to be just horrible," he said, echoing the comments of many residents.
While the Tax Assessor's Office would like all revaluation appeals to be in by Aug. 17, Powers said she understands that everyone may not receive their notices by then. People can appeal on the telephone, she said, and if the data is wrong, Bearing Point will send someone out to reevaluate.
Celeste Lawrence, a spokesperson for Lt. Gov. Gregory Francis, urged anyone who sees problems with their revaluation to appeal. The staff is well trained to deal with these issues, she said.
Until Aug. 17, Powers said, the Tax Assessor's offices on St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John will be dedicated to dealing with the revaluation matters from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. On St. John, the office will be open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Call 776-2859 on St. Thomas, 776-6737 on St. John and, on St. Croix, 773-6459, ext. 3118.
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