By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis yesterday announced the government’s intention to offer a real property tax amnesty programme while announcing a scheme to offer “upscale” western New Providence building lots to young Bahamians.
Speaking in the House of Assembly Dr Minnis said officials realised recovering overdue property tax has been a long-standing challenge.
“There has been some improvement over the years, but there remains a substantial backlog of real property tax arrears spanning many administrations. My government understands the challenges faced by families and business owners, which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 economic downturn.
“To ease the burden on persons and to provide them with some measure of relief, Cabinet has approved a real property tax forgiveness programme that will provide substantial discounts on arrears.
“For Bahamian property owners my government will waive 50 percent of the total amount unpaid arrears for more than 180 days on such property, including overdue tax and accumulated surcharges, where full payment of all amounts due and payable is made on or before the 31st May, 2021.”
For those who are unable to pay 50 percent, Dr Minnis said if they enter into a payment agreement with a 25 percent down payment on or before the 31st May, 2021, the government will waive the total accumulated surcharge payable on taxes assessed on such property that has remained unpaid for more than 180 days.
Dr Minnis urged Bahamians to contact the Department of Inland Revenue and take full advantage of this tax forgiveness programme.
As regards the initiative to offer building plots to younger families Dr Minnis said he was of the view “our young people deserve” a better chance at living the Bahamian dream of homeownership, jobs and proper quality of life.
In view of this, he said two areas in the western portion of the island have been identified for lots earmarked for young Bahamians. The lots are valued at $150,000 but will be sold at a cost of $50,000 or less. Those in the Carmichael area valued at $70,000 are being offered at $15,000.
The programme is being carried out through a public private partnership.
Dr Minnis made the announcement during the start of debate on the 2020 Fiscal Strategy Report and Public Financial Management, Debt Management, Statistics and Public Procurement Bills.
The Killarney MP said: “Many of our young people would find great difficulty in purchasing land within our country and before I expand on that I only want to point out that we have started already with the service lots programme, most recently in Carmichael and there in the Carmichael area lots that would be appraised, that’s with all the infrastructure in place, would be sold. I know initially we had said $20,000 but Cabinet feels that our young people deserve even a better chance and these service lots with all the infrastructure in the Carmichael area although appraised at $70,000 will be sold to our young Bahamian populace at $15,000.
“Mr Speaker what that would mean, and we have discussed this with financial entities that would mean a $70,000 lot. The government is selling to its citizens for $15,000 and it means that they already have an equity of $55,000 and therefore they can use that equity as a down payment to build their homes as opposed to the obstacles they face today. Never before has this been done.”
He continued: “The demand for this has been overwhelming. Today, I am pleased to advise that through a PPP arrangement, we will soon be launching the commencement of a 150-lot subdivision, upscale within western New Providence area that will be geared strictly to young professionals, young Bahamians, young millennials.
“Mr Speaker, the cost of land especially in the western area is prohibitive. Our young professionals coming back or finishing University of the Bahamas cannot afford to buy land.
“I had purchased three pieces some time ago within the western district in New Providence - one for each of my sons and I purchased those lots at $40,000 each and today each is worth $150,000. What it meant that had I not bought it for them they could not afford it and many young people fall within that category. Today the land is too expensive and it’s the government’s responsibility to ensure that Bahamians can participate in what we call he Bahamian dream. They want to own a home. They want jobs and they want a proper quality of life and healthcare.
“Land has been identified and we were concentrated on one set of land, 150 lots upscale with clubhouse facility, also upscale, but the demand and the request was so great that we’ve looked for more and I am proud to say that we have identified another area, all in the western district and within the Killarney constituency. So, for those young people watching me as I speak I say to them welcome to Killarney.”
Those who qualify will also be able to build their homes duty free, Dr Minnis noted.