Anastasia Cunningham, Senior Gleaner Writer
The Department of Local Government has started proceedings against several landowners who owe property taxes for over five years.
On Sunday, approximately 400 property owners across the island were listed in a gazette and given an April 1 deadline to clear the outstanding amount.
According to Calvert Thomas, director of revenue enhancement and mobilisation in the Department of Local Government, the list of properties in arrears is much more extensive, with property owners over the last seven years owing in excess of $5 billion.
He said the department was able to collect $2.7 billion of the projected $3 billion for the 2010-2011 budget, leaving a shortfall of $300 million for the period.
"The fiscal year ends on the 31st [March], so we expect to have an increase in collection by then," said Thomas.
He said those listed owed for a continuous period of five years and no steps had been taken on their part to clear the outstanding amount. Among them were Kaiser Bauxite, Sugar Company of Jamaica Holdings Ltd, Black Brothers, Greenvale Investment, Jamaica Agricultural Society, Max Brown, and Malcolm Housen.
Under the law, two gazettes must be published within a month but not more than three months before any legal action can be taken. However, persons have been responding to the first publication.
"Persons have called with queries, making recommendations or suggestions, asking for amnesty, more time, or wanting to make arrangements to clear the arrears," said Ann-Marie Mittoo, the local government department's director of communications.
So far, at least one person has taken issue with the gazette.
Attorney-at-law Frederick Hamaty has sought redress from Prime Minister Bruce Golding on the listing of his deceased father, N.W. Hamaty, for lands in Negril.
Stating that the correct name of his father was in fact M.N. Hamaty, he said the land was sold and the title transferred at least three times since his father owned the property back in the early 1980s.
"I am, therefore, requesting, in your capacity as minister of lands, an immediate retraction of the information contained in the publication which has caused much embarrassment, and an apology of equal prominence in the two newspapers which have defamed the good name and professional reputation of my deceased father and his family," Hamaty said in his letter to Golding, outlining the trail of ownership and the title and volume number of each transfer.
Property taxes are used to pay for street lighting, beautification of communities, parochial road rehabilitation, and garbage collection and disposal.