Home News Local news V.I. SEEKS DISMISSAL OF PROPERTY ASSESSMENT SUIT

V.I. SEEKS DISMISSAL OF PROPERTY ASSESSMENT SUIT

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Jan. 20, 2003 – A civil trial contesting the V.I. government's method of assessing property values for tax purposes resumes on Tuesday in District Court on St. Thomas after a week's break in the proceedings. The first order of business could be a ruling by Judge Thomas K. Moore on a motion by government attorneys to dismiss the case.
The V.I. Justice Department attorneys filed a motion to dismiss late last week. Lead V.I. attorney Kerry Drue argued that the plaintiffs' challenge of the method used by Tax Assessor Roy Martin to assess property values is in error.
Eleven V.I. property owners have joined forces in the consolidated case, telling Moore that the assessment method violates local and federal law. Property currently is assessed at its replacement cost at current market rates, regardless of its age or condition.
Drue and other government attorneys point to testimony given earlier in the trial by Martin himself and by a Special Master appointed by District Court in a previous property-tax case. Both Martin and the Special Master said that calculating replacement cost "is a well-recognized technique" for assessing property values.
The motion to dismiss cites judicial precedent from other jurisdictions and tax-assessment practices in other government entities "confirming the validity of the replacement-cost approach."
Lawyers representing the plaintiffs brought in expert witnesses to evaluate the procedures used in the Tax Assessor's Office. The experts said replacement cost is one of several approaches used to determine property values. Those who had had an opportunity to review the procedures used in Martin's office said they could not identify all of the factors used in the replacement cost formula and that the V.I. assessment method is not the same as replacement-cost methods used in other jurisdictions.
According to attorneys on both sides, the case under way is unprecedented in the Virgin Islands, representing the first time that a large number of property owners have joined together in a civil suit against the government. Lawyers involved have said the trial could go on for months, because after the arguments are presented for the collective plaintiffs, others will ensure for each individual party to the suit — unless, of course, Moore should grant the motion to dismiss the case.

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