Businessman and Chairman of Houston Estates, Michael Vieira, is disputing that the company owes $400M in land taxes to the Mayor and City Councillors, of Georgetown (M&CC). In response to claims by the Council, Vieira told Kaieteur News that Houston Estates has been punctual in paying all rates due to City Hall in full, every year.
He noted, however, that the company has been embroiled in an ongoing feud with Council over its taxation system.
“Sometime in 2005, the Council decided to increase the taxes on vacant lands in the city from 40 % to 400% of the assessed value. We had pointed out that the land owned by the estate is agricultural lands and not vacant lots. We had an agreement to pay them only 40 % in exchange for no services provided.”
Vieira explained that the deal for reduction of taxes to 40% was struck with the Council in exchange for services provided to Houston and surrounding areas. He said that no services were provided by the Council to the lands of the estate. The businessman said that in fact, it’s been more than 100 years that Houston Estate has been providing drainage service to the villages of Meadow Bank, Houston, Mc Doom and Agricola, free of cost.
Despite this, Vieira noted that the Council has become insistent on levying the company of 400% on the lands.
According to the businessman at no time was a decision conveyed that Houston have to pay the 400%.
“We only agreed to 40 % but the figure moved to 400% and then to 440% and now the Council is claiming that Houston Estates owes back taxes dating back to 2005. So their claim essentially has more to do with the Council increase on taxes rather than with getting compliance for the sale of lands,” he said.
Vieira iterated that Houston Estates has honoured all its financial obligations to the State. He said too that the position adopted by Council is one which spells extortion and Houston Estates will, if necessary, defend its position in Court.
On Monday, City Mayor Ubraj Narine announced a move by the Council to recover over $400M worth in taxes, allegedly owed by Houston Estates.
According to the Mayor, Houston Estates has been selling lands in the Houston, East Bank Demerara area for billions of dollars without remitting to the Council its rightful taxes.
Narine said that an article published in the daily newspapers about sale of lands earlier this year by Houston Estates caught his attention.
The article outlined that Houston Estates was selling to Redstart Investments, an international firm which has established a presence in Guyana, over 52 acres of land in the Houston/Rome area.
The article pointed out, too, that a number of oil and gas companies had acquired lands in the area and were in the developmental stages.
Mayor Narine said that the article caused him to pull Council‘s records on Houston Estates.
The Mayor said that to his surprise, the Houston Estates, which is owned by the popular Vieira family, has not been paying its rightful rates.
“The issue which most concerned me is compliance, and of the payment on land taxes. What, we found is that the Estate was using one account number for compliance from Council, but selling multiple properties.
This is despite the fact that Houston Estates is subdivided in various sections. It is a large section of land to be sold. There is Houston, Rome North, South and so forth,” Narine added.
The Mayor told Kaieteur News that the Council had invited the representatives of the company to have the issue corrected.
“We invited the company secretary Mr. Lopes. We said to him that this is the problem we have. We need for the estate to provide these documents, so that we can solve this problem.
“It was promised to us and we followed up by writing to them, but got no response. There are currently numerous infractions on general rates and taxes and all we are asking for is for Houston Estate to pay us what they owe. Give us our fair share. That‘s all we want, but we have not been hearing from them at all.”
According to the Mayor, the Council has since moved to file an action to oppose any further sale of land by Houston Estates.
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