Karrie Williams, Gleaner Writer
THE WESTMORELAND Parish Council has said property tax compliance for the fiscal year 2012-2013 has surpassed expectations, which was somewhat surprising to Savanna-la-Mar's Mayor Bertel Moore.
"Last year, we collected $145,219,371 for the parish, and already we are at a 95 per cent compliance rate for the first quarter of this financial year,'' said Moore. "We expect this to continue as such for the remainder of this fiscal period.''
However, while Westmorelanders have been paying over their property tax this year, information gleaned from the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development has revealed that the parish has $325 million in arrears.
Opal Beharie, the council's secretary manager, told The Gleaner that Westmoreland's high rate of compliance is largely due to the fact that the parish council consistently embarks on public awareness campaigns to educate parishioners about property tax and the value that is derived from it.
"The parish council hosts a monthly radio programme which explains to listeners the importance of paying their property taxes and the benefits which are derived from their compliance,'' she said.
Beharie added: "Great emphasis is placed on informing listeners that funding for the provision of necessary amenities such as street lights, garbage collection and drain cleaning comes directly from the payment of property tax. Therefore, they are able to have a better understanding of why it is necessary for everyone to be compliant."
In addition to the radio programme, Beharie said community meetings were also held periodically to further sensitise persons, stating that such meetings were given priority during November to mark Local Government Month.
The communities of Culloden, Amity and Hartford in the parish were identified as the areas with the highest rate of compliance; whereas Whitehouse, Negril, and the various housing developments across the parish were classified as being the least compliant.
"The communities which show high compliance often contain a large number of returning residents who are accustomed to paying property tax," said Moore.
In explaining the low levels of compliance with the housing schemes, the mayor said it was owing to the fact that many residents were still waiting to receive their land titles from the developers of the schemes.
TWO Tax offices
The fact that Westmoreland has two Inland Revenue departments, the Savanna-la-Mar or Darliston collectorates, it makes it much easier for residents to pay their property tax. In addition, payments can also be made online.
Because of the public awareness campaigns, those who choose to be non-compliant are cognisant of the fact that they can be charged under the Property Tax Act of 1903.
Under the Property Tax Act, land owners and occupiers are required to pay. However, there are also exemptions.
The Act states that without prejudice to any other means of recovery, the property tax and any penalty and interest payable may, subject to rules of court, be sued for and recovered in the Revenue Court or in a Resident Magistrate's Court by a Collector of Taxes, with full costs of suit, from the person charged therewith as a debt due to the government.
Additionally, property owners and occupiers must also bear in mind that charges are assessed based on the location of their lands in respect of the social, commercial and infrastructural amenities which are in proximity.
For those who experience genuine circumstances which prevent them from paying over their property tax, Beharie said the parish council has a Discretionary Relief Committee in place to assess their situations and render any necessary assistance.
She said this special committee meets on the third Friday of every month, but fewer applications have been coming in since the start of the year.