Tensions flared at Monday night’s council meeting when constituents asked council members to address issues they had concerning recent auto tax bills. To their dismay, they weren’t given the answers they desired.
Resident Robert Cote said he is displeased because he is being charged a combined total of nearly $2,000 for five vehicles. In fact, he said he is contemplating moving out of state because he is frustrated.
“I’m going to sell my house and get the hell out of here,” he said following the meeting. “I’m at the point where you just can’t look at me and say ‘I don’t know’ anymore. If they could show me how they come up with the numbers I’d have no problem and I’d pay the tax. But they can’t, so why should I pay?”
Another resident, Roger Durand, agreed and said, “I was expecting answers. They were disingenuous with us [and] there is absolutely no accountability. The City Council, the people who are vested into protecting us, are doing nothing. We’re told, ‘We can’t talk about it because it’s not on the agenda.’”
Cote is upset because the mayor and the council lifted the $5,500 in value exemption in order to balance the city budget and raise more than $10 million. With removal of the exemption, which the state initiated as a means of phasing out the excise tax about eight years ago, those who own motor vehicles valued at $6,000 can expect to pay an added $190.30 in taxes. Vehicles valued at less than $6,000 that weren’t taxed last year will be taxed at $34.60 per $1,000 of valuation.
How the city arrived at motor vehicle’s values has been a hot issue. The values are based on the North American Dealers Association book. Cote calls those values “mythical.”
“There are hundreds and hundreds of people that are up in arms about this,” said Cote. “No one knows how the numbers are generated. There’s such a disparity between the actual value of the vehicle and what we’re getting taxed on. In my situation alone, I have an additional $2,000 tax obligation on three vehicles and I have all the documentation and paperwork about what the actual values are based on the state. I ask the city and they have no idea how these values are set.”
One of the vehicles Cote is being taxed for is a boat trailer he said he purchased four years ago for $975. Now, he said it has been valued at $1,900. Additionally, the Toyota Tacoma he bought for $24,000 three years ago is valued at $28,000.
During the meeting Cote said, “We’re getting taxed to death. These car values are outrageous. They have no merit whatsoever. I was told by the city that car values are taxed based on the average value under the NADA guidelines. In fact, they are not. They are taxing us on the full clean retail value of your vehicle. If you go to the NADA or the Kelley Blue Book, it tells you that less than five percent of the vehicles sold in the country meet those parameters to be valued at that particular number. No one in the tax office can answer any questions. It’s your obligation to address this issue with the tax payers of the City of Warwick because we are getting screwed.”
But, Council President Bruce Place said the council couldn’t answer Cote’s questions. He feels that while the council is obligated to help, they do not have the authority to make changes to bills.
“I’m not sure that this council can answer the questions that you have,” Place said. “I’m not sure that this council knows what the NADA values are. I’m not sure we would be capable to coming to a conclusion as to what the values are for your car, or anybody else’s. The state generates those values. I know some of the values have gone up and there have been many complaints.”
Place’s answer did not satisfy Cote.
“Who else do we go to?” Cote said. “If you voted for it and you didn’t completely understand what the ramifications were on the taxpayers, how can you in good conscience say, ‘Well, we can’t talk about it anymore?’”
While Cote requested a separate gathering in order for council members to discuss the issue further, Place said having a special meeting won’t change the values.
Further, Place said, “The tax rate was established by the city and the council based upon certain numbers that we got. Those numbers appeared to be incorrect. Then, the mayor made an adjustment in accordance with the state law because we were exceeding the cap on the residential tax allowable by the state, so it had to be deducted from 81 cents to 21 cents. Are we happy about that? Only in the end result when we took 60 cents [out.] We were pleased some of it was diffused and the car tax now allowed people that weren’t previously taxed, i.e., fleet owners – in other words Avis, FedEx, UPS, and those people, were now taking some of that burden off the residential property owners and renters, as well.”
Durand said the tax rate should have been dropped in the first place.
“We spent  hours during the budget hearings and you people were very gracious to the taxpayer,” he said. “Then, two weeks later it’s, ‘We found some extra money. We’re going to drop the tax rate.’ I don’t see anybody in the city administration to come before this council to justify how in God’s name you can give us a projection that was totally wrong and the council has to base their tax structures on it. You’ve got to understand why the taxpayers are so frustrated.”
“Absolutely,” said Place. “I’ve been just as frustrated as you are in the last couple of weeks with all that’s going on.”
Following the meeting, Cote said that while he plans on filling out the appeal form he was given at City Hall earlier this week, he considers it a “joke.” He also said he does not intend to pay the taxes and plans to take legal action.
“I’m going to hire a lawyer,” said Cote. “I’m being taxed more than the full value and it’s wrong.”
City Assessor and Tax Collector Kenneth Mallette said yesterday that the city “sticks strictly” to the NADA values as dictated by the state valuation committee.
“We don’t make up these numbers. They all come out of the NADA,” he said.
However, Mallette said there is a “flaw” in the values provided by the committee in that there is a gap in valuations from 1985 to 1993. He couldn’t say why the committee doesn’t provide values for those years and that the state assessors association has complained about it for years.
In the case of these vehicles, Mallette said the city uses the NADA values. He suggested the state might be better off using the Massachusetts system where after a certain age a discount is applied to all NADA motor vehicle values.
(With reports from John Howell)