(GFR Media)

The Municipal Revenue Collection Center (CRIM, by its Spanish acronym) will be stripped of the assessment and collection of the property excise tax duties which are to be entrusted to municipalities in an effort to tackle property tax evasion. 

The measure seeks to inject more funds to the troubled coffers of municipalities, said yesterday Senate president, Thomas Rivera Schatz, about a bill for that purpose and which concept has been endorsed by the Executive and has the support of the majority in the Legislature.

He noted that the changes to the CRIM come from an idea long entertained by several mayors –among them the mayor of San Sebastián, Javier Jiménez– who credit that corporation with little or no efficiency. Therefore, they believe it’s the municipalities who should collect the property tax and the CRIM should only keep the power to manage the digital cadaster and the accounting system.

The idea comes back when municipalities are about to loose –starting July 1– $350 million in State subsidies, according to that set forth in the fiscal plan approved by the Oversight Board (OB), and governor Ricardo Rosselló has asked them to look for options to mitigate the loss. 

“There are mayors from both parties who share this idea, which I see as a good thing. I think no body would be more interested in the financial health of municipalities than mayors themselves. It’s not about raising taxes, but about locating those who don’t so they may contribute according to their capacity and resources,” Rivera Schatz told El Nuevo Día following a meeting with the governor at La Fortaleza where House Speaker, Carlos “Johnny” Méndez was also in attendance.  

“There is going to be legislature to tackle the overall fiscal and budgetary situation of municipalities. The CRIM is an institution that will undergo changes. A structure will be configured to regionalize it so municipalities assume duties more directly,” the senate leader explained.

OCAM to disappear

The CRIM will not be the only one changing, the Office of the Commissioner for Municipal Affairs (OCAM, by its Spanish acronym) will soon disappear, Rivera Schatz warned.

In fact, the Executive yesterday announced a bill that –as part of the project to streamline the government– transfers the last of the powers and employees of the OCAM to the Office of Management and Budget. The Office for Community Social Economic Development (ODSC, by its Spanish acronym), formerly Special Communities, assumed through Law 10-2017 most of the duties, employees, and federal funds of the OCAM.

“As soon as the bill is passed, the OCAM disappears,” said the secretary of Public Affairs at La Fortaleza, Ramón Rosario Cortés.

The OCAM will cease its functions on June 30, the end of the current fiscal year, said the office’s director, Omar Negrón. With that move, he added, the government saves $500,000 on jobs labeled as positions of trust, monthly rentals, and utilities, among other. 

Rosario Cortés stressed that the move affords continuity to the process already on its way to reducing the size of the government with the elimination or merging of agencies. The first step was the creation of the ODSC last February and more recently, the creation of the Department of Public Safety which brings together seven agencies.

He mentioned that agencies next to be consolidated are the Department of Family and the Department for Economic Development, which is supposed to happen next fiscal year. However, this daily learned that the measures for those consolidations could be submitted in May so they become effective in the budget of fiscal 2018-19.

Soon after that, attention will focus on the CRIM in order to financially help municipalities.

Rivera Schatz said that one of the alternatives is for municipalities with the infrastructure to collect the property tax to do so. “Anyone not having the capability (to collect) could make an agreement with a neighboring municipality,” he noted.

“It is a way of giving them (municipalities) the means to raise the funds,” said, for his part, the chamber’s president.

Both legislative leaders spoke about social justice.  They said it wouldn’t be right for those already under the CRIM’s radar to continue paying but for tax evaders to pay as well. That includes those currently paying to the CRIM, but whose properties have not been reassessed to record any improvements adding value to the property.

“No one better than them (municipalities), to know where the home was built,” said Méndez.

“The idea is to go and knock on the doors of those who should be paying but aren’t,” stressed, for his part, Rivera Schatz. 

The mayor of San Sebastián, who presided over the CRIM board for many years, said it was a corporation that no longer functions given that in accounts receivable –according to financial statements for 2016– there were about $2,764 million just in property taxes. The CRIM annually collects approximately $1 billion.

For his part, the el president of the CRIM board and mayor of Cidra, Javier Carrasquillo, has doubts about that initiative. “It is a good alternative for municipalities to participate in the process, but to take away duties from the CRIM, without an infrastructure in the municipalities, I think that far from moving the process, what it’ll do is to either halt or delay it,” he said.

He recalled that the CRIM, under a new direction, is geared toward taking steps to becoming more efficient. “The CRIM has to be allowed to do it on its own,” he said.

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