Warwick resident Rob Cote is on a mission to rally Warwick taxpayers to protest the City Council’s elimination of the $5,500 auto exemption. Removal of the exemption boosts the city taxes of all vehicles valued at $6,000 or more by $190.30.
Cote spent Monday evening addressing 300 letters containing information about the tax and urging people to attend the Aug. 15 council meeting in a show of protest.
“My car tax protest is in full force,” said Cote via an e-mail exchange. “I have mailed letters to the immediate neighbors of the six council members who voted for this tax. They will not be happy with the council when they get the letters. The additional taxation is due to the council members refusing to cut spending and balance the budget.”
And he is just getting started. On Tuesday Cote said, “I have no limit. I’m going to keep sending letters until people start to wake up. It will be in the thousands. I have a flyer campaign ready to go and we’re going to distribute them door-to-door.”
Cote’s flyer lists the names, addresses, phone numbers, e-mails, and photos of the six council members who voted for the tax, including Council President Bruce Place; Ward 1 Councilman Steven Colantuano; Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson; Ward 5 Councilman John DelGiudice; Ward 6 Councilwoman Donna Travis; and Ward 8 Councilwoman Raymond Gallucci. Cote is using his own money to fund the costs of, envelopes, paper and postage to support the campaign.
“I want to get everybody educated on what’s going on,” he said. “I’m sending the mailers out to people to let them know how this car tax has evolved, where the money is going, and that this is the time to get to the council hearings and start to make objections. Otherwise, we’ve lost the city totally. People are not engaged in the community and that’s why this is happening.”
In the letter, Cote informs citizens that their particular council member voted in favor of the tax. He also said the values on vehicles were purchased from the NADA book by the state to support tax revenue.
Further, he notes that the values given by the NADA are assigned as full clean retail, while less than five percent of all vehicles sold in the U.S. meet the criteria for this assessment.
“The value that is assigned to your vehicle is not realistic,” Cote said. “If these values were realistic I wouldn’t have a problem paying them. I’ve never been delinquent with a bill in my life. This is an effort to try to bring the community together and say, ‘You’ve got to stop this madness. We just can’t support this anymore. We can’t keep balancing the budget by creating these fictitious numbers.’”
He also includes information about how to research vehicle information on the NADA website, which is nadaguides.com. Additionally, he provides a website for the protest at cartaxprotest.spruz.com for citizens, as well as an e-mail address so people can inquire about the details of the tax. Cote said he has a team of five or six Warwick constituents, which he did not want to name, helping.
“You can contact us at email@example.com for information and updates,” he said in the letter. “We can also assist you in the appeal process.”
Cote said, “We need people to get involved. People need to voice their opinions, protect themselves, and let these so-called leaders know they exist and that they are in pain because of these taxes. They need to engage themselves because if they don’t this is just going to keep going and going. I’m so tired of talking to people and hearing them say, ‘Well, the politicians are just going to do it anyway, so what can we do?’ Well, if you take that attitude and stand on the sidelines and do nothing then you are correct. You’ve given up the ship.”
Since he has been more vocal about the vehicle tax, as he has attended multiple council meetings in the recent past and has voiced his opinions at City Hall, he said he has realized how angry other constituents are. He is often approached while he is in public in the general area of Warwick.
“My wife won’t even go with me to the supermarket with me now because people stop me and ask me what’s going on,” Cote said. “Last Friday night, we took our girls out to dinner in East Greenwich and the whole dinner [people from Warwick] were coming up to me. They are all upset about it. People keep saying the car tax is ridiculous.”
One of the main reasons he finds the tax “unjust,” is because he said the funds will be used to give city employees pay increases of 2.75 percent.
“The mayor has a lot of gall saying the city workers haven’t gotten a pay raise in two years when there are senior citizens like my mother who haven’t seen a Social Security raise in three or four years,” Cote said. “It’s just out of control. I’m so upset over what’s going on.”
Cote, who said he is paying about $700 per month for his property and vehicles taxes combined, hopes the community joins him during the meeting on Aug. 15 at City Hall from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Again, he wants more people to became aware and active in regards to the tax.
“It’s a really unfortunate situation but we have to take advantage of it,” he said. “If something good can come from this in terms of people voicing their opinions and their right to free speech, then so be it. Otherwise there’s nothing but more pain for the taxpayer. I’ve already contacted a lawyer and if we get enough people we will file a class action lawsuit. If nobody goes to the meeting, then we deserve everything they give us.”
He also said he fears that the council could change the tax again next year. That is why he feels it is vital for people to attend.
“What’s to stop the council from saying, ‘We need to raise revenue. Let’s raise everybody’s car another $10,000 in value,’” Cote said. “This is what I go to sleep at night thinking. I’m just trying to channel my aggravation and energy into something that could turn into a positive and wake people up.”