People want to pay property tax, Finance Minister Colm Imbert said yesterday as he confirmed Cabinet's approval of June 5 as the new deadline date for the submission of valuation return forms (VRF).
Speaking at yesterday's post-Cabinet news conference at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann's, the minister said: “As you know, Trinbagonians are famous for last minute. So what has happened is that in the last week leading up to the [original deadline of May] 22nd, which is Monday, the number of persons visiting the Valuation offices has exploded.
“I was been told last week that about 60,000 forms had been submitted. The estimates are that for this week, over 90,000 additional forms may have been submitted already.... So we have gone to 150,000 [submissions] just in a couple of days.... It is obvious that people want to get involved in this process of having their properties valued and assessed, and they want to pay the tax,” he said.
He said in these circumstances, Government did not want to have “more and more confusion”, and felt it was necessary to give people the opportunity to submit their returns and get involved in the process.
“It is very unusual to see people lining up to go through the process of paying tax. I have not seen this before. I have not seen people lining up in the hot sun, long lines, in order to subject themselves to the payment of tax. So there has been an overwhelming response to the request from the Commissioner of Valuations for property owners to submit information on their properties,” he said.
He said people apparently ignored calls from the Opposition not to file their VRFs.
Imbert said a total of 400,000 VRFs were sent out to residential properties.
In order to minimise a bottleneck, the Ministry of Finance proposes to start using buildings in communities as centres for the receipt of the valuation forms, and staff will be sent out to these new centres, he said.
Yesterday, the Ministry of Finance also stated on its website that persons can submit their completed valuation return forms and copies of supporting documents via e-mail at email@example.com. and VRF receipts would be sent to them via mail.
Tax by September 30
Imbert said Government “should” be able to complete the process of assessing property taxes of residential properties by September 30.
He said the form applies to owners and occupiers. Asked about people who did not have evidence of title to a property but were living in it, Imbert said: “If you are not the owner, and the owner is not recorded anywhere, you just occupying it and you sub- mit the form as an occupier.”
Asked why Government went first after residential properties rather than industrial and commercial, Imbert said the records for residential properties were in better shape than the records for industrial and commercial properties.
“I am told that there are in excess of 250,000 residential properties that are recorded,” he said, adding it was easier to do an assessment of the residential properties because of the condition of the residential rolls.
He said many of the industrial and commercial properties, with the exception to those in the city, are not on the books.
“So the process of defining the physical characteristics of an industrial or commercial properties, assessing its value and determining what the property tax should be is going to take a little bit longer than residential properties,” Imbert stated.
He said many of these commercial and industrial properties would require field visits. The Valuation Division has started the outreach for commercial and industrial properties and is meeting with the Point Lisas property owners today to explain the ramifications of the tax.
Don't undervalue your property
Imbert also warned it would not be easy for people to get away with “seriously undervaluing” their property, given the bases and information on which properties would be assessed.
For persons living overseas who own properties in Trinidad and Tobago, Imbert said they can appoint someone to submit the VRF on their behalf. “If you are not here, I would advise you to get someone, a family member or friend or associate, to submit the form,” he said.
He also confirmed owners of vacant properties would be required to submit VRFs in order to have their properties assessed for property tax.