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Property Owners Reassess Taxes Under New System


Sept. 30, 2005 – Gary Berne couldn't be happier about the drop in property taxes on his 44,000 square feet of commercial real estate in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas.
"It went down close to where it belongs," he said.
He said he last paid $6.4 million in property taxes. He said it dropped to $2.2 million when the property was revalued by order of former U.S. District Judge Thomas K. Moore.
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.
Berne Corp. was the lead name on a suit filed against the Virgin Islands government that forced change in the way commercial properties are valued. Twenty-two others joined the suit.
Berne said that he faced going out of business because his property, located across from Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral, does not command high rents.
While Berne may be delighted about the drop in his property taxes, St. John resident Albert Willis is definitely not happy.
"Taxes on three out of four of my properties doubled," he said.
Willis owns the Boulon Center, Raintree Court and other properties on St. John.
He said taxes on the Boulon Center stayed about the same because it had been reassessed several years ago.
Tax Assessor Roy Martin said that commercial property tax owners received an impact statement at the end of May.
"Some went up, some went down," he said of the changes in assessment.
Martin did not provide requested information about the number of commercial properties on each island or about the percentages that saw their property taxes go up, go down or stay the same.
While Martin said the impact statements went out at the end of May, at least one St. Croix business woman is still waiting for hers.
"I haven't gotten it, and I haven't been asking, either," Comanche hotel owner Mary Boehm said.
Martin said the tax bills will go out once the District Court releases the injunction against the government that prevented commercial property taxes from rising. Commercial taxpayers have been paying at the 1998 rate.
St. Croix attorney James Derr, who represented clients in the case, said that some of the impact statements had "glaring errors."
Martin said commercial tax payers can call or visit the Tax Assessor's offices to resolve issues.

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