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Parish councils improve revenue intake through TAJ partnership

Published:Friday | January 9, 2015 | 1:00 AM

Parish Councils are finding new ways to boost their revenue intake, among them, the marriage of burial inspections and property tax collections.

A performance report on the councils for 2013-14 indicates that revenue rose overall to more than $8 billion for the fiscal year, from which the Ministry of Local Government concluded that "the authorities are identifying adequate and reliable sources of funding to support their functions".

The increased collections are attributed to the partnerships among the Ministry of Local Government, the councils, Tax Administration Jamaica, Ministry of Finance and Planning and Fiscal Services Limited.

An accounting official at the Westmoreland Parish Council said for burials conducted on private property, a certificate of payment of property tax for the land is required. When the certificate is produced from the tax office, the applicant then pays $2,500 for a health inspector's visit, who will check on the property for dangers such as underground water sources.

If the certificate of payment cannot be produced, the burial will not be permitted.

But: "Not all parish councils are on board," the accounting officer said.

Oliver Fagan, director of corporate communications at the Ministry of Local Government, said the property tax receipt both proves ownership and that taxes are up to date.

He said that a number of local authorities have introduced the measure as part of the requirements for home burials.

"This is a regulatory requirement introduced by the respective councils to ensure that properties, which are to benefit from the councils' services, are in conformity with the law to pay their property taxes when they become due," said Fagan.

The compliance rate for property taxes is at 59 per cent, he said, underperforming developed countries which report collections in the 90 percentile range.

Fagan said that if a property owner has a genuine difficult case in paying his/her property taxes, "there are measures in place at the councils which will allow the case to be examined and a determination made as to how best the matter can be treated.

"Parish councils are empowered to do this under Section 1(21) of the Parish Councils Act, which addresses their authority to vote on such matters."

However, a perusal of the regulations shows no reference to places for burial, although it makes reference to the power to make regulations to curtail the keeping of swine and dogs and other activities which might cause a public nuisance.

The local government ministry's performance report also speaks to alliances between the TAJ and the councils regarding outstation collections on weekends, in remote communities and housing schemes, door-to-door visits to delinquent property owners, town hall meetings and community fairs.

The councils and the TAJ also engaged in what was described as "active pursuit of delinquent property owners, including court cases and where necessary, detention; and technological support to facilitate collections, particularly in the remote collection areas, and also to aid in the compliance efforts".

The annual report shows that overall, revenues were earned from approximately 30 sources inclusive of billboards and signs, cemeteries, market fees and leases, transportation centres, barbers and hairdressers, building and subdivision fees, trade licences, butcher's licences, water rate, burial inspections, rental of premises, sale of water, arcades, parking fees, public amenities, and parking fines.

The report notes that about $5.83 billion of collections was from property taxes, while $2.69 billion was from motor vehicle licensing fees.

On the last day of each month, each parish council is allocated 90 per cent of the property tax paid in the relevant parish and 25 per cent of motor vehicle fees.

The remaining 75 per cent of vehicle fees is distributed to the parish councils based on the number of miles of parochial roads in the parish and expressed as a percentage of the total number of miles of parochial roads in the Island.

The remaining 10 per cent of property tax is placed in an Equalisation Fund, where parish councils may apply to the local government ministry funds on a needs basis.

Disbursement from the Equalisation Fund for the annual period ending March 2014 totalled $503.97 million for parochial road rehabilitation, infirmary and municipal infrastructure, and other projects.

The improvement in disbursement was due to the increased collections received from property tax and motor vehicle licensing, the local authority report stated.

The top three revenue-earning councils last year were: Kingston and St Andrew Corporation, $392 million; St Ann Parish Council, $133 million; and St James Parish Council, $132.78 million.

avia.collinder@gleanerjm.com