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KINGSTON — Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) with responsibility for Local Government Reform, Hon Robert Montague, says that property tax collections are already in excess of $1 billion for 2011/2012.

This has resulted from the Government instituting measures to improve property tax collection, as part of the revenue collection process.

“It means that our cash flow will be smoothed out this year,” Mr. Montague told a media Round Table, organised by the Department of Local Government at its Hagley Park Road office Tuesday June 14.

Mr. Montague noted that some of the difficulties being experienced in the dissemination of assessment notices are being addressed. The Department has partnered with the Jamaica Public Service (JPS) to get the notices out to correct addresses.

“What we’re trying to do with JPS (and the National Land Agency), is to coordinate the specific notice to the property – there are approximately 500,000 JPS customers in Jamaica, but what it discovered is that a JPS address doesn’t necessarily translate into a valuation number, and a property address,” he said.

“When we did the match up, we were only able to get 18,000 of the 500,000 that had the correct address, that would match with the valuation number…so we have had to do a generic bill-stuffer in the JPS (envelopes),” Mr. Montague added.

Additionally he said, because the tax roll is not updated, the notices are mailed or delivered by the Parish Council, but are not collected, or they are not delivered, because names on the notices do not correspond with the addresses.

“Therefore, what you have at the local authorities is a lot of returned tax notices, and unscrupulous persons come to the authorities, collect these notices, pay the property taxes and then apply to the courts for adverse possession,” he said.

Director of Revenue Enhancement and Mobilisation, in the Department of Local Government, Calvert Thomas, explained that high value assessment notices are delivered by the Parish Councils, but that the majority of the notices go through the mailing system. He said when these notices are returned, due to incorrect addresses, the Parish Councils seek to carry out the distribution.

Mr. Montague noted, however, that there is an obligation on the part of property owners to pay their taxes, regardless of whether or not they receive the notices.

“Ultimately, the payment of property taxes is not reliant on a notice…you know you own it, you know you owe it, you need to come and pay it. There is an obligation on the occupant and the owner,” he asserted.

Mr. Montague observed that court action was being explored for delinquent property owners, whose names have already been gazetted for the non-payment for five or more years. He said that, while he is not fully satisfied with the pace of the process, the transformation is, in fact, making central government more efficient.

In his wide-ranging presentation, the Minister spoke on a number of issues, including the innovative operations at the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA), enhancing in the Jamaica Fire Brigade, energy saving, property tax collection, income generation for Parish Councils, increased efficiency in the approval process, Ananda Alert, disaster preparedness, infirmaries, and financial management system for Parish Councils. 

 

By ALPHEA SAUNDERS, JIS Reporter