TAX Administration Jamaica (TAJ) is reporting that, as at last month, it is half way to the $7.26-billion target for property tax collections set for this fiscal year, with some parishes recording high levels of compliance.
"Overall to date we are at 53 per cent of the $7.26 billion target at the end of August. For some of the parishes, like Kingston and St Andrew, they are at about 62 per cent, Portmore is at 60 per cent, Hanover is at a high of 60 per cent. You will find that St Ann's Bay and Montego Bay they are at a high of 50 per cent," property tax co-ordinator at the TAJ Sharon White told the weekly Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange.
She, however, said rural parishes like Clarendon and St Thomas are at a low of 40 per cent.
Calvert Thomas, senior director of the Revenue Enhancement and Resource Mobilisation Division in the Ministry of Local Government, said there was cautious optimism that the target figure would be met.
"When you look at it, what we were expected to be at in August, as against what we have realised, it's about 90 per cent, and in the scheme of things, if you are achieving that level of performance generally you would feel very good. To some extent we are satisfied, but we are cautious," he told the Exchange.
"The first three months were very good, we were exceeding what was projected, the pattern has changed now and between July and August we were almost flat in terms of our collections. The challenge we have is that although we are at 90 per cent of what we wanted to achieve, in terms of translating the remaining 10 per cent into dollar figures it is almost a $400-million difference that you are looking at.
"So we need to recognise that, even though it's high in terms of 90 per cent, the dollar figures are still significant and there is no way we can afford to allow that to increase; we still need now to be very proactive in terms of our collections," Thomas pointed out.
He said the push to collect property taxes this year in order to deliver services was even more critical, given the financial constraints being experienced at the central government level.
"Previously, we got grant financing from central government to support any shortfall in relation to our payments for street lights, solid waste, fixing of our parochial road network, community services, and civil support. The fact that we have to move our collections from $2.8 billion last year to this massive figure of $7.26 billion speaks to the demand that is placed on us getting the revenues and providing services to our citizens," Thomas said.
"That is the connection we need to make for persons to recognise that even as we push for every cent that, is owed, it's not because we are greedy, it's an imperative we have to meet if we are to be able to provide our local services at a minimum," he added, noting that the bill for street lighting facing the authority this year is in excess of $3 billion, not including arrears.
"That is what we have to pay the Jamaica Public Service to keep those services going. All of that has to be paid from property tax dollars, plus all of the other services that are there," he pointed out.
In the meantime, he said of the target amount, some $2 billion represented arrears that the authority hoped to collect this year.
He said a conservative estimate of the total stock of arrears, some of which might be "uncollectible", could be around $5 billion to $6 billion, not including the amount for this fiscal year.
There are 14 local authorities and 229 councils.