EVEN as there are growing pockets of resistance to Government's plan to introduce a new property tax regime, Finance Minister Karen Nunez-Tesheira was firm last night that there was no chance of backing down from its agenda.
Nunez-Tesheira, in a telephone interview, said the Government was listening to the concerns being raised by property owners across the country, but the new system was necessary to ensure equity and transparency.
She said property owners were informed about a year ago that the Government planned to increase their taxes from January 1, 2010.
Nunez-Tesheira said she announced the Government's intentions to implement a new property tax system in her 2008/2009 Budget presentation last year.
The new property taxes are contained in the 2009/2010 Budget that is set to be passed by the Senate today.
A copy of the Hansard (the Parliament's official record) shows that during her budget presentation on September 22, 2008, Nunez-Tesheira said: "The proposed new property tax regime will take effect from January 01, 2010."
While she did not state, last year, what the new property tax rates would be, she then said that "this new system will be fair and equitable, transparent, user-friendly and easy to administer" and would involve a new centralised system that would be computerised and "will ensure that all taxable properties are registered and valued for taxation at today's market prices".
Nunez-Tesheira had made similar remarks in her budget presentation on September 7, except that two weeks ago she announced the taxes are based on the current rentable value of any property and would see flat tax rates of three, six, five and one per cent for residential, industrial, commercial and agricultural properties, respectively.
She said yesterday this proved that the criticisms levelled against the Government by many property owners as well as some Opposition MPs that the new property taxes came out of nowhere and reflect a callous attitude on the Government's part are unfounded.
"Everybody is saying as though we suddenly came out of nowhere and introduced this... we announced it last year and this, I think, is something long in the making," Nunez-Tesheira said.
As there is increased anxiety among property owners to the very idea of paying what will be, for many, much higher property taxes, Nunez-Tesheria said the Government is listening to their concerns, but maintained that the move will lead to more equity in the collection system and will actually result in lower taxes for property owners in areas like Chaguanas since they are paying a ten per cent rate on 2004 property assessments.
She said there should not have been any significant reduction in the value of properties in Chaguanas in the last four years and at the new three per cent rate, they would be paying less property tax. "Three per cent as opposed to ten per cent is a vast difference," Nunez-Tesheira said.
Nunez-Tesheira noted, however, that those living in Port of Spain would not be as fortunate since even though the ten per cent rate now exists there, it is based on 1975 property values.
Nunez-Tesheria also reiterated that under the legislation for the new system, those who prove to the relevant authority that they are under financial hardship will receive a waiver or a reduction in their property taxes.
She said the Finance Ministry will be carrying out a campaign to address what she said was "a lot of misinformation" about the new property taxes.
The purpose of the property tax is to provide a revenue source for the deployment of public goods such as garbage collection, street cleaning and road maintenance, street lighting, fire services, maintenance of recreational parks and other community services.
"These taxes will support the activities of Local Government bodies," Minister in the Ministry of Finance Mariano Browne said during the Senate sitting last week.