V.I. government plans to auction delinquent taxpayers' properties

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As the territory's elected officials argue over how to fix the deficit, the V.I. Lt. Governor's Office is trying to collect more than $12 million in delinquent property taxes by telling the owners it will sell their property if they do not pay up.

Today, the office has published in The Daily News the list of 1,457 properties for which $12,132,236.98 in taxes, interest and penalties are owed.

The owners named on the list have not paid their property tax bills for at least 10 years, V.I. Chief Operating Officer Delbert Hewitt said.

If the property owners do not step up to pay their bills within 30 days, the office will seize the delinquent property, set an auction date and sell it to the highest bidder, Hewitt said.

Any buyers would have to pay all the past-due taxes, fines and fees owed on the property, Chief of Enforcement Calford Charleswell said. Under V.I. Code, no bid will be accepted unless it is at least equal to that amount.

According to the list published today, the lowest amount owed on a single parcel is $284.50, while the most owned on a single parcel is $513,467.63.

Under V.I. Code, the owners who lose their property in a tax sale are entitled to a one-year redemption period after their property is sold.

During that time, they can buy their property back by paying the government the auction price as well as all additional taxes, fines, fees and 12 percent annual interest.

The office will then refund the purchase price, plus 12 percent annual interest, to the buyer who obtained the property from the government.

In the list published today, the properties are identified by a 12-digit parcel number. If the first digit is 1, the property is located on St. Thomas; if it is a 2 or 4, it is located on St. Croix; and if it is 3, the property is on St. John, Charleswell said.

Staff at the Tax Assessor and Cadastral Office can look up the physical address associated with each parcel number, and they can provide maps of the area for a fee of between $10 and $15, staff members said.

Some community members have asked whether the office's increased enforcement efforts are being contracted out to a private company, but spokeswoman Shawna Richards said that is not the case.

Now that the list has been published, the cited property owners have 30 days to respond before the government will put a lien on the property and set an auction date. V.I. Code does not say how quickly that auction has to occur, but Hewitt said his office does not want to drag out the process.

"We're not going to give them forever," Hewitt said.

Hewitt said locations for the auction sites have not been set.

- Contact reporter Karen Hollish at 774-8772 ext. 304 or email khollish@dailynews.vi.

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