April 11, 2005 St. John's escalating property values and the fear of residents that their real estate taxes would rise dramatically were hot topics at Monday's Coral Bay Community Council meeting at the John's Folly Learning Institute.
Senate President Lorraine Berry, Sens. Liston Davis and Neville James addressed residents' concerns.
"Has the EDC been good for St. John or has it caused a huge run up in prices?" Angela Ebner, Coral Bay resident, asked the senators.
Berry said it brought good and bad, but overall the Economic Development Commission program was good. She said the company owners build big houses, which means they pay a lot of property taxes in additional to their personal income tax.
However, residents worry that the proximity of their house to those big houses will cause their property taxes to go up.
"It's a very serious problem because the average St. Johnian is not a rich person," Davis said.
While James called for a cap on property taxes, Berry pointed out it was not currently possible thanks to a ruling by Thomas K. Moore, district court judge. He ruled in 2000 that the local government was incorrectly assessing commercial properties. He ordered the government to begin assessing real estate based on market value rather than replacement cost and to tax all properties at the same rate regardless of whether they were used for residential or commercial purposes.
Berry said it fell to Delegate Donna M. Christensen to propose federal legislation to change the Organic Act so taxes can be capped.
She said there had been a cap until Moore's ruling.
Berry said she was working on legislation to develop an incubator program that would help small businesses get under way.
"We have worked tremendously hard to help big businesses. Now we have to help little people go up the ladder," she said.
She said the program would provide free rent for up to three years to allow small businesses to get started. She said federal funding was available for this program. She said she envisioned two incubators each on St. Thomas and St. Croix and one on St. John.
Davis said that Coral Bay doesn't have the infrastructure to support growth. He said that problem included Guy Benjamin School, which could see an increase in students when the Calabash Boom affordable housing project is built.
Several residents questioned the affordable housing project's density.
The Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Reliance Housing plans to build 24 town houses to be sold by the V.I. Housing Finance Authority. Additionally, it will build and manage 48 rental units.
"You'll have 400 people crammed into a seven-acre site. Are three stories a good idea?" Coral Bay resident Don Near said as some of the approximately 50 people at the meeting applauded.
Robert O. Jackson, Reliance Housing's president, put the site size at eight acres in a July 2004 interview.
Berry said those concerned about this development should ask Sen. Celestino White, who chairs the Senate's Housing, Sports and Veteran's Affairs Committee, to hold a public hearing on the matter.
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