Launtia Cuff, Gleaner Writer
BLACK RIVER, St Elizabeth:
LOCATED IN southwestern Jamaica, the beautiful parish of St Elizabeth, which is considered the breadbasket of the nation, has an abundance of land.
As with any other parish, much of this land is subject to property tax.
Property tax is imposed on residential or commercial landowners to provide revenue, which is used to take care of the responsibilities of local government.
This tax is charged to all persons in possession of land, excepting for some exemptions granted by the minister of finance. If an organisation would like to request such an exemption, a written application has to be sent to the minister.
Those eligible for exemption are properties exclusively used for religious worship, churchyards, burial grounds and rectories; educational institutions and properties owned by the Council of Legal Education; land owned by Government and local authorities, hospitals, charitable or cultural organisations.
Landowners have the convenience of paying taxes online on the Tax Administration Jamaica (TAJ) website, which gives 24-hour access, as well as at any of 29 tax offices located across the island, two of which are located in St Elizabeth.
The parish has accumulated arrears for the financial years 2006-2007 to 2012-2013 of just over $730 million, accounting for 8.8 per cent of national arrears of approximated $6.4 billion.
"The more we have, the more we will be able to extend to the citizens. What was collected (last financial year) would have been used for payment of our street-lighting bills, garbage collection, for beautification work; the assistance with cleaning of drains, and other civic improvements such as our parks, like Independence Park and our mini park," said David Gardener, secretary/manager at the St Elizabeth Parish Council.
He added: "Those are largely what it was used for, the key areas. Recently, I know the mayor had granted an amount to the health department to assist in both rodent and mosquito control. We also used it to assist in those areas."
He added: "The property taxes now will also be used to fund social water - standpipe water - in addition to minor water. While central government, through the Ministry of Finance, would have provided what is called deficit financing to assist with the payment of garbage collection and street lighting, the full amount in respect of these two areas will now have to be met from property taxes."
Property tax coordinator at TAJ, Sharon White, said property tax compliance is an issue in the parish, as the projected target for collection for the financial year 2012-2013 was $249.56 million, but only $187.82 or 75.26 per cent was achieved.
"If a target is set, and we haven't reached the target, we were short by 25 per cent. I would consider that a serious problem," White said.
While TAJ is putting in measures to raise compliance, she warned that delinquent property owners could face legal action.
Many residents, however, believe that property tax is not affordable.
"I'm not saying we mustn't pay it, you know, [but] in my opinion, they are charging the people too much, especially the senior citizens who are not working. Overall, whether you're working or not, I think it's too much," Sharon Brown told The Gleaner.
Willard Chambers, a member of the business community, said the burden is not as great for business owners, as the revenue may be used to cover such an expense.
He too, however, believes the tax is not affordable for many persons who use their land for residential purposes, particularly those living near to commercial towns, which may cause increased land valuation.
Property tax is calculated on the unimproved value of the land in question and is charged as a flat rate of $1,000 for unimproved value up to $100,000.
Properties with values exceeding that, up to $1 million, attract an additional 1.5 per cent for every dollar above $100,000, and those with values in excess of $1 million are charged an additional two per cent for every dollar over $1 million.