Oct. 29, 2008 — Government officials are still in the process of re-issuing fiscal year 2006 property tax bills and will continue to do so until a court order comes down telling them to stop, Attorney General Vincent Frazer said Wednesday.
In 2000, a group of commercial-property owners took the V.I. government to court, alleging that it was assessing commercial properties based on replacement rather than actual property value — a method, they said, that resulted in inflated assessments. Thomas Moore, then the sitting U.S. District Court judge, agreed and in 2003 ordered the government to conduct a thorough revaluation of commercial and residential properties.
Meanwhile, property-tax values were frozen at 1998 levels until the project was completed and a new assessment system — which had to be certified by a court-appointed special master — was established. The court case and revaluation process prevented the government from issuing property-tax bills for 2006 and 2007, government officials have said.
While the injunction was still in place, bills for fiscal year 2006 still went out in August, prompting attorneys for the commercial-property owners to file a motion to find the government in contempt of the court's 2003 order. In a memorandum opinion issued in early September, V.I. District Court Judge Curtis Gomez granted the motion and ordered the government to pay $5,000 a day — and rescind all recently issued fiscal year 2006 property-tax bills — until it comes back into compliance with the settlement agreement. He also ordered the government to pay the property owners' attorney fees, along with other costs racked up during the "litigation of the contempt issue." (See"Court Ruling Will Allow Government to Reissue FY 2006 Tax Bills").
But the federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals recently granted a government motion to stay Gomez's order, which Frazer has said opens the door for the government to re-issue the property tax bills. The stay, he said recently, is in place pending a ruling on the government's official appeal of Gomez's decision.
Attorneys for the property owners immediately filed a motion with the Third Circuit asking for a clarification of its decision to stay the contempt order, saying that the government was using the ruling as a means to "ignore the terms of the injunction."
The motion was denied Tuesday.
"The court sees no need to 'clarify' its order of Oct. 10, 2008, which stayed only the District Court's contempt order and did not refer to, much less purport to lift, an injunction issued on May 12, 2003," wrote Third Circuit Judge Maryanne Trump Barry. "The motion to clarify, therefore, is denied."
When asked Wednesday whether the court's most recent decision prevents the government from re-issuing the tax bills, Frazer said that government officials had met, conferred and were ready to keep moving forward with the process.
"This was simply a ruling on a motion that was filed for clarification," he explained. "But the court said there was no need for clarification, so the government feels that it is entitled to go ahead and send out property taxes. We have met and consulted, and are prepared to proceed until the court enters another order."
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