Jan. 11, 2003 – When the time came Friday in District Court on St. Thomas for Turnbull administration officials to turn over documents relating to an ongoing property tax assessment case, lawyers representing the plaintiffs said the material delivered fell far short of what had been promised.
Attorneys representing 11 plaintiffs, owners of commercial and residential properties and raw land parcels, were told on Thursday they could expect to receive reports and documents on the financial condition of the V.I. government by Friday morning.
The trial in which the plaintiffs charge that the government illegally assessed the value of their property for tax purposes was in its fifth day Friday. Chief District Court Judge Thomas K. Moore said the session would be shorter than a full day because he had other matters to attend to on his docket.
After three hours of testimony by property owner Gary Byrne and Steve Jamron, an expert witness called to testify on the different assessment methods used to determine property values, attorneys David Bornn and James Derr reminded the judge of the promise made the day before by Finance Commissioner Bernice Turnbull and one made earlier in the week by Tax Assessor Roy Martin.
Government attorney Kerrie Drue told the judge the property maps and other documents were in the courtroom. Moore gave the parties 15 minutes to examine the material. But when the boxes were opened and the maps were unrolled, the plaintiff's lawyers were disappointed.
The data used by Martin to determine comparable real estate sales rates were missing. So were his handwritten notes and the worksheets used by the tax assessor to analyze the data used to determine property values.
Missing among the materials requested from Commissioner Turnbull were a summary of outstanding court judgments, a report on unpaid retroactive wages owed government workers, sums owed to vendors on bills over 30 days old, and copies of letters written by the commissioner to the Office of Management and Budget stating revenue forecasts between the years 1997 and 2001.
Bornn said his clients need the information in order to find out if the government has enough money to pay court judgments — some already awarded by the court and others that might result if the judge's verdict in the current case favors them.
On Thursday, Attorney General Iver Stridiron, in statements made to the court as he represented the Finance commissioner, said there had never been an instance of the V.I. government failing to pay a court-ordered judgment.
But Bornn, representing plaintiff Gary Byrne, owner of Byrne's Ice in downtown Charlotte Amalie, said the government has been hemming and hawing over paying Byrne an earlier judgment.
And Commissioner Turnbull, testifying on the witness stand under oath, danced around the question of whether the Board of Land Use Appeals had approved an adjustment to a property tax bill in a particular case and ordered the tax assessor to process a refund from the Finance Department.
"The premise is that the government does not know what they have, what they owe, the timeliness with which they pay people, or whether or not these plaintiffs will ever receive their payments," Bornn said.

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