Between aggressive pursuit of delinquent property taxes and billing for past years’ collections delayed by lawsuits, collections rose dramatically the last two years and should remain high in 2013, according to Raymond Williams, chief of staff to Lt. Gov. Gregory Francis, during budget hearing Thursday.
In Fiscal Year 2010, the government collected $26.1 million in property taxes, of which $1.3 million was delinquent, Williams testified. In FY 2011, it collected $86.7 million, of which $10.3 million was delinquent, he said. Those 2011 receipts more than tripled, in part, because the Office of the Tax Assessor issued 2007 property tax bills in February and the 2008 bills in July, collecting two years in one.
Property tax collections were postponed for a number of years due to a lawsuit filed in 2000, contesting the way properties were valued. That case was settled in January 2011, paving the way for multiple billings.
As of June 30, the government had collected $66.4 million in real property taxes and anticipates collecting $96.5 million by the end of FY 2012, with $14 million of that being delinquent taxes, staff testified to the Finance Committee.
As of July 26, it had collected $81.9 million, said Delbert Hewitt, chief of operations for the Office of the Lieutenant Governor.
The 2009 tax bills were issued in February of this year and the 2010 bills in July, each for roughly $50 million. The Tax Assessor’s Office intends to issue 2011 bills in January of 2013 at the 1998 levels, as mandated by recent legislation .
The Tax Assessor’s Office has held four auctions – two per district – of properties delinquent a decade or more on property taxes this year. Nineteen St. Thomas/St. John properties and 25 St. Croix properties were auctioned. Overdue taxes on the properties totaled $1 million and the sales collected $1.9 million, according to information submitted along with Williams’ testimony. The former owners have a year to redeem the properties, he said.
Meanwhile, many property owners are coming forward to pay or make payment plans for their delinquent taxes.
Of the properties selected for auction so far, "less than 30 percent ended up being auctioned, since many property owners were coming forward to pay their delinquent taxes," Williams said.
Williams, Hewitt and the heads of the major subdivisions within the Office of the Lieutenant Governor were before the Finance Committee in Frederiksted to discuss the office’s 2013 budget.
The Office of the Lieutenant Governor oversees eight separate government subdivisions, five of which generate revenue for the government:
– Office of the Tax Assessor, assessing land values and maintaining cadastral land maps;
– Banking and Insurance;
– Recorder of Deeds;
– Trademarks and Corporations; and
– V.I. Passport Acceptance Facility.
The team was there to discuss the Office of the Lieutenant Governor’s FY 2013 General Fund budget recommendation of $6.4 million, a 14 percent, $1.1 million, decrease from FY 12. Of the $6.4 million, $4.2 million is for wages and salaries, $1.7 million for fringe benefits and utilities are budgeted at $123,000.
The office also will administrate $610,000 in the Tax Assessor’s Revolving Fund, using it principally to complete the biennial tax assessment. That fund is replenished with 1 percent of property taxes collected each year.
No votes were taken at the information gathering budget hearing.