Jolyn Bryan, Gleaner Writer
MORANT BAY, St Thomas:
IT IS said, the only things in life that are sure are death and taxes. To most people, this is a truism, as they pay taxes on a monthly basis and know persons who have died.
Those who receive a payslip are familiar with education and income tax that they pay on a monthly basis. But after some research, it is clear that many people who do not own property in St Thomas have no idea that they will be expected to pay additional taxes once they own land. Some remember the catchy jingle that reminded them to pay their property tax. But beyond that, most do not know what it is or why it is necessary.
Property tax is a charge on the unimproved value of all property in Jamaica.
The tax is used for maintenance and expansion of street lighting, garbage collection and disposal, and civil and community infrastructure such as maintenance of parks, repairs to fire stations and farm roads.
Some of the funds collected last year was used for the Labour Day projects across the parish, repairing bus stops and repainting pedestrian crossings, bushing, and planting of trees. All persons in possession of land are expected to pay property tax.
Exemptions do, however, exist; including buildings used for religious worship, burial grounds and rectories, educational institutions, government-owned lands, hospitals, and those used by charitable organisations.
On principle of civic responsibility, and for these benefits, most agree that property tax must be paid. But those who are aware of the tax, and have to pay them on a regular basis, find the expense burdensome.
R. Campbell, an entrepreneur and homeowner who dabbles in real estate, often finds it disheartening to pay the expense. When asked about his views on property tax, he told The Gleaner, "A tax! How you expect me to feel about it? If you live in a country, you mustcontribute."
Most people in St Thomas agree that it is important to pay taxes. They understand the principle behind it, the need to contribute to the society and to benefit from essential services such as street lights and garbage disposal. But there are those who are still not benefiting from property tax payments.
Despite the best efforts of the Jamaica Public Service Company, many areas in the parish still do not have street lights. They have bad roads and face health issues because of the infrequent collection of garbage.
To this end, the St Thomas Parish Council is urging persons to pay their property tax so it can deliver these services in a timely manner.
In the last financial year, 2012/2013, Tax Administration Jamaica set a target of $60.65 million for property tax collection in the parish. The actual collection was $52.76 million, an 86.99 per cent success. Property tax arrears for the parish stand at $97 million, according to information gleaned from the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development.
Notwithstanding the challenges, projects are being undertaken utilising funds from property tax for the parish's benefit.
uplifting the parish
The St Thomas Parish Council, in conjunction with the National Solid Waste Management Authority and the St Thomas Fire Brigade, has embarked on a Morant Bay Upliftment Project, geared at the clean-up and beautification of the town and its environs.
It seeks to improve sidewalks, drains and roadways while planting trees and other greenery to ensure a healthier and more aesthetic environment. The project is valued at over $2 million, a portion of which will be funded by money collected from property tax. Ludlow Mathison, who was acting as mayor at the time of the interview with The Gleaner, said work would be done on various parks around the parish, including the Rudolph Elder Park and the Bath Botanical Gardens.
There are several methods of payment for property tax. The tax can be paid online on the Tax Administration Jamaica's website www.jamaicatax-online.gov.jm; or at either of the tax offices.
Relief is available to several categories of people. Through a process of discretionary relief, persons including pensioners, persons with disabilities and the elderly, can obtain an exemption from paying tax. These persons fill out a form and present supporting documents, such as birth certificate, relevant titles, doctor's records, etc. These are reviewed by an officer and sent to a Parish Review Committee that makes a decision.