Tue | Sep 19, 2017

Target on St Elizabeth! - Parish to be 'combed' for delinquent property owners

Published:Monday | April 24, 2017 | 4:00 AMJovan Johnson
Minister of Local Government Desmond McKenzie making his presentation in Parliament last Wednesday.

Notice has been served on delinquent property owners in St Elizabeth - one of the parishes with the lowest compliance levels - that for two weeks, starting today, the authorities will be targeting them to cut arrears and help fill a $2-billion gap to fund garbage collection.

Desmond McKenzie, local government and community development minister, told journalists last Thursday that he expects criticisms but insisted that the Government will not relent.

"We expect people are going to cuss we out and we are prepared to face the wrath of the people. But it is important that we face them," McKenzie said.

 

FUNDS GOES TO LOCAL GOV'T MINISTRY

 

Unlike other tax revenues which go to central government, the inflows from property tax go to the local government ministry to fund services such as street lighting and garbage collection.

For this 2017-2018 fiscal year, the Government had projected $8.6 billion in collections with the implementation of a revised property tax system. The projection had to be revised downwards, however, to $6.5 billion - a $2.1 billion loss - after public outcry forced the Andrew Holness administration to reduce the rates used to calculate the tax.

The ministry, McKenzie said, has been affected because $1.9 billion would have gone to the National Solid Waste Management Authority.

 ... St Elizabeth, Clarendon and Manchester the  parishes with the lowest compliance levels

St Elizabeth, Clarendon and Manchester are the three parishes with the lowest levels of property tax compliance. Almost 60 per cent of property owners there do not pay their taxes, according to Calvert Thomas, director, revenue enhancement and resource mobilisation in the local government ministry.

Calvert explained that delinquents will still be liable for prosecution under the compliance drive. "We will utilise all of the available options to us."

Speaking later Thursday to compliance officers from across the country, Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie said the $7.6 billion collected in property tax for 2016-2017 was the most in any financial year. That amount surpassed the target by $350 million.

 

SHORTCOMINGS IN SERVICES

 

Though admitting to shortcomings in the services for which property tax covers, he insisted that those in arrears will "not be allowed to get away" because "it is not fair".

There is approximately $13.5 billion in property tax arrears. The figure is supported by the fact that 43 per cent of property owners in Jamaica do not pay their taxes, Finance Minister Audley Shaw disclosed earlier this month as he announced changes to the property tax regime.

On March 9 when he opened the 2017-2018 Budget Debate in Parliament, Shaw announced that the Government would launch a new project to collect outstanding property taxes.

McKenzie said he and Shaw would speak on the project, but added that to make up the shortfall, "every farthing that is available" will be needed.

jovan.johnson@gleanerjm.com