Carl Gilchrist, Gleaner Writer
PORT MARIA, St Mary:
ST MARY is the 10th largest parish in Jamaica with much of its land dedicated to farming.
Like all other parishes, St Mary lags behind when it comes to property tax collection, and is 11th of the list of arrears, with a figure of $151.2 million.
The parish's arrears figures have been growing steadily since 2006, climbing from $12.6 million in 2006 to $35.8 million in the last financial year, 2012-2013.
Last year, $87.5 million was collected in St Mary, reflecting a 71 per cent collection rate.
Since the start of the financial year in April up to the end of July 2013, a total of $111,807,182 has been collected
"We've been on a number of drives," Mayor of Port Maria Levan Freeman explained. This involved going into communities, having meetings aimed at sensitising residents about the importance of property taxes and how its payment would benefit them.
"It is mandated that we appeal to persons to pay their property taxes," Freeman said. "And people are not really reluctant to pay, but they like to see value for their money, they want to know that when they pay, they will see the benefits."
According to Freeman, residents have made it clear that they need street light and regular garbage collection.
"We try our best as a parish council to maintain a certain standard. There's a lot to be done, but there are financial constraints," the mayor said.
A resident of Port Maria, who gave her name only as Kim, believes that persons who are not coming forth to pay their property tax sometimes have genuine excuses - they cannot afford to pay.
"I know old people who have land, they're not working, they hardly have anybody to take care of them sometimes, and whatever little money them come across is just to buy food and keep them alive," she said.
Citing this, the Government has introduced property tax exemption for pensioners who are unable to afford the new rates.
Persons wishing to be exempt from the new property tax rate may collect and fill out the prescribed form that is available at post offices and parish council offices.
If the committee reviewing the application approves it, the pensioner will not be required to pay the new property tax rates, but would still be required to pay at the old rate.
The exemption lasts for a year, but is renewable upon application.
Property tax is a tax placed on all properties in Jamaica and the owner or occupier of the land is required to pay.
The tax is calculated on the unimproved value of the property and is calculated at a flat rate of $1,000 for properties valued up to $100,000. Properties valued over $100,000, but less than $1 million, attract an additional 1.5 per cent for each dollar above $100,000. Properties valued over $1 million attract a two per cent tax for each additional dollar.
There are payment options available for persons seeking to pay property tax. Payments may be made annually, biannually or quarterly.
Payments made after April 30 are considered late and attract a penalty of an additional 10 per cent.
Unpaid amounts after 30 days beyond April 30th will attract an additional 15 per cent interest per year.
Payments can be done online or by visiting one of the several tax offices located islandwide, where payment is accepted in cash or by debit or credit card.
In St Mary, the tax offices are located in Port Maria and Annotto Bay.