On April 1st, 2010 some property owners were in shock after receiving their Property Tax bills from the San Pedro Town Council (SPTC). Alarming to them was the drastic increase in the amounts due for payment to the Council. After reviewing their bills, property owners came to the realization that taxes were not raised but what had indeed been raised were the assessments made to their properties. Property owners had been assessed at a higher value for their properties than the previous year. Based on the new assessments carried out by SPTC, taxes which are paid at 1.5% for undeveloped properties and 2.5% for developed properties increased the amounts due. In one instance, after the assessment was made, the tax due was raised from $75 to $600, while another property owner paid $360 in Property Tax last year and this year his bill stood at $3,750, other examples show similar increases. One case shows an assessment made to a property in the sum of $75,000 when the lot was recently sold for $16,000. These all posed serious questions to SPTC and a letter circulated by the San Pedro Business Association, who called out the SPTC on this issue, caught the attention of the council.
The letter stated that: The recent increase in property tax threatens to have a grave impact on investment and our economy. Increases for individual lots have been anywhere from 200% to 2,000%. Locals cannot afford this type of increase and foreign investors will not invest in a place where the local government can change their taxes from year to year without logic or due diligence. If property sales collapse on Ambergris Caye then the Government of Belize will be denied a valuable revenue source in the form of the Stamp Transfer Tax. Furthermore all construction would grind to a halt as investment dollars dried up causing mass unemployment in the construction trade.
Responding to the letter, the SPTC issued the following press release where it responds to the circulated letter and tax rates: The San Pedro Town Council feels deeply offended and is outraged at the accusations made in a letter recently circulated by a “so called” member of the San Pedro Business Association. The Council feels betrayed by this action as they have made it very clear to the San Pedro Business Association, as well as other organizations that its door is always open to them to discuss matters of concern. The Council feels that if they wanted to get answers they should have approached the Council first.
With regards to the issue of property tax increase, the Council humbly apologizes for an error made. The mistake came about as property assessment is due for the year 2011/2012 and not for the 2010/2011 as the Council mistakenly thought. The figures and percentages voiced are not the actual numbers. The Council is working on getting accurate advice as to the proper assessments for the preparation of the valuation role. Having received this, the assessment will be reviewed by the valuation appeals board. To this mistake the Council apologizes. The public needs to be aware that only a few of these bills show the mistake as these were the bills from persons inquiring about their taxes. Of the statements sent out, only two have paid. These persons will be notified of the error and a credit will be given towards their account. All others who have not paid will pay based on last year’s assessment.
Property Tax owners are asked to contact the Property Tax Department of the Council should they have any more queries or concerns. Again the Council asks the general public to contact the various departments when they have any doubts so as to be able to remedy the situation.
In an interview with Claudio Azueta of the Valuation Appeals Board, should any citizen feel that they have been wrongly charged on their taxes, property owners should write a letter addressed to the board and deliver to SPTC office. The board would then meet and make a decision on the taxes charged.