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HomeNewsArchivesSt. John Residents Upset Legislature Held No Property-Tax Meeting on Island

St. John Residents Upset Legislature Held No Property-Tax Meeting on Island

Jan. 15, 2008 — When the Legislature's Committee of the Whole takes a look at Gov. John deJongh Jr.'s property-tax bill starting at 9:30 a.m. Friday on St. Thomas, several St. John residents will be angry that the senators didn't come to St. John.
"We would appreciate it if they would come to St. John because we are the hardest hit," Lorelei Monsanto said Tuesday.
Some residents are so angry they plan to show up at the Legislature in hopes of having their say, she said.
Residents made their views known to the senators when news first surfaced in November that no St. John meeting was planned. Myrtle Barry, who is spearheading property-tax issues for St. John's Unity Day Group, said the group's members requested a meeting on St. John in October 2007. Senate President Usie Richards denied their request, she said.
"Basically, they've lumped us in as St. Thomas/St. John," Barry said.
The governor sent a bill to the Legislature that sets the tax rate at 0.003770 on residences, 0.004946 on land, at 0.007110 on commercial real property, and 0.014070 on time shares. The rate is applied to the 100-percent valuation of the property.
The bill's chief sponsors are Richards, Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone and Sen. Celestino White.
Richards said Tuesday that the residents' concerns are about the property revaluation, not the tax rates set in the bill. Those concerns were heard when Lt. Gov. Gregory Francis and the Tax Assessor's Office held a meeting on St. John in October 2007, he said.
The Committee of the Whole meeting will address the bill at hand, Richards said. When asked if he plans to vote yes on the bill, he would only say that he is one of the primary sponsors.
White and Malone did not return phone calls requesting comment.
The Legislature made some changes in the governor's bill, mainly concerning the definition of time shares, Sen. Louis P. Hill said. He suggested that the changes came about because time-share lobbyists petitioned the members of the Legislature.
The governor's bill merely identifies timeshares as real property owned or leased jointly by several persons in which leasehold ownerships or leasehold interests are for fixed periods of time. The Legislature's bill further identifies those properties as apartments, condominiums or cooperative units, cabins, lodges, hotel or motel rooms or campground.
Although the majority members listened to the timeshare lobbyists, they failed to take into account the feelings of residents on the property-tax-revaluation issue, Hill said. He will offer an amendment when the property-tax bill comes to full session to send out the next tax bills at the rate previously paid.
Additionally, he's working on an amendment to assess properties based on construction costs rather than market values.
However, Hill said that since Malone, Richards and White are majority senators, he's not that hopeful that his amendments will get through. Hill is a member of the minority.
He acknowledged that St. John has been hit particularly hard, but said residents on other islands will also feel the pain. Hill, a resident of Peterborg, St. Thomas, said he expects his property-tax bill to nearly triple.
Monsanto, Barry and other St. John residents are spearheading a move to get some relief for the large number of St. John residents who expect to get slammed when the next property-tax bills come out.
The problem starts with the fact that St. John's property values, determined during the recent U.S. District Court-ordered revaluation, are way out of kilter, Monsanto said.
"The assessment is done incorrectly," she said. "The bill is going to be moot."
At issue is the base-per-square-foot rates used to set the value of the property. The base rate for St. John houses stands at $360 a square foot, while St. Thomas homes were revalued using a $93-a-square-foot base rate. On St. Croix, the base rate figure is $89 a square foot for houses.
Base rates for land are $25.12 per square foot on St. John, $7.41 per square foot on St. Thomas and $2.78 per square foot on St. Croix.
Another St. John resident, Brion Morrisette, said the $400 homestead exemption for residents who live on their properties will not "remotely" offset the fact that some people will see their tax bills go up by 1,000 percent. If St. John residents see a vast increase in property taxes, it will have disastrous ramifications on the social and economic structure of the island, he said.
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