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CRIM Makes A Turnaround

Property & nonproperty tax collections surpass $1 billion; agency acquires own building, new equipment & tools; employees get better pay & benefits


December 18, 2003
Copyright © 2003 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

Before year’s end, the Municipal Revenue Collections Center (CRIM by its Spanish acronym) will have finished moving its headquarters from the former Puerto Rico Lottery building on Muñoz Rivera Avenue to the Triple-S building on PR1, which the agency recently acquired for $17.4 million.

CRIM Executive Director Norman Foy said the move represents a new era for the agency, created through the Municipal Law of 1991 to provide the island’s 78 municipalities with their own source of revenue in the form of property and nonproperty tax collections.

"CRIM has made a complete turnaround," Foy told CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. "Through a lot of work and sacrifice, CRIM has changed from an agency that was plagued with problems, including budgetary shortfalls, municipalities complaining of not being able to access their information, and a lack of computer equipment."

Foy’s first order of business upon joining CRIM in February 2001 was to purchase a $1.2 million computer system to replace the one at the agency since 1993.

"We are now providing unlimited access to all municipalities and banking institutions through the Internet," he said. "Some banks have 20 terminals connected to our system, which allows customers to verify their debt and obtain a debt certificate without having to visit a CRIM office."

More equipment was acquired at the regional offices so that CRIM employees could do their work more efficiently. "There were few computers and printers at the regional offices, and people had to wait in long lines to get a debt certificate," said Foy. "Now we have at least 18 to 20 computers at each regional office, for a ratio of one terminal for every two employees."

Foy added that CRIM has entered into agreements with municipalities to jointly perform appraisals, land segregations, and debt collections, which has increased the number of properties being appraised in Puerto Rico. "When I arrived at the agency, it was collecting about $700 million in property and nonproperty taxes. Already we have surpassed $1 billion, which goes to the municipalities," said Foy. "That includes about $200 million the agency gets from the central government."

CRIM has also been able to reduce its expenses, thanks to the purchase of the Triple-S building, said Foy. He noted that the agency was paying $2.9 million annually in rent for a building that was too big.

"We were paying for 70,000 square feet of space when we require only 45,000," said Foy. "That [the new building] translates into an annual savings of $828,000. That’s money that can be used to provide better services and equipment, as well as better pay to our employees."

CRIM will be using only half of the 92,000-square-foot Triple-S building; the other half will be leased. Foy said that means extra income for the agency.

CRIM employees had been earning the federal minimum wage of $5.25 an hour when Foy arrived at the agency; now they start at $6.25 an hour. Also, the agency doubled its contribution to employees’ medical plans.

The controversial $70 million Land Information Management System project, which will digitize all real-estate property tax code or cadastral maps, will be completed by August 2004 at an $8 million investment, said Foy. Since public agencies and the private sector are interested in accessing the maps, CRIM will charge a usage fee as a way to reduce its investment and maintenance costs.

"We have done a lot, especially in raising people’s perception about CRIM, but there’s a lot more to do," said Foy. "I can’t say we are at an optimum level, but everybody agrees there has been a dramatic change at the agency. There’s more control, and things are working better."

Foy credited Willie Miranda Marin, mayor of Caguas and chairman of CRIM’s governing board, for his vision and leadership in getting CRIM back on its feet.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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