To the Editor:
If I owned a 1992 Ford Bronco, my Warwick tax bill would be based on a valuation of $2,800. If I owned a 1986 Bronco, the value would be $500. But no, I owned a 1987 Ford Bronco last year. My Warwick vehicle tax valuation is $4,800.
Does this make any sense?
I asked Ken Mallette, the Warwick Tax Assessor, about an appeal. He told me that the city's hands are tied. The city can do nothing to help out its taxpayers. It's all in the state's hands, according to our city administration.
But is it?
Ken Mallette is also the president of the Rhode Island Association of Assessing Officers. This association's parent organization has published a "Standard on Assessment Appeal." Grounds for appeal in that standard include:
"2. Uniformity claim - claim of discriminatory level of assessment." What could be more discriminatory than to assess 1992 Broncos at $2,800, 1987 Broncos at $4,800, and 1986 Broncos at $500?
I set up an appointment with James Neary, the state official in charge of car taxes. His name may be familiar to you because he is the former Warwick Tax Assessor. I hoped that he could explain how my Bronco got nailed for a $4,800 valuation but if it were a year older the value would have been only $500.
Mr. Neary explained that his Rhode Island Vehicle Value Commission deals exclusively with cars and trucks that are in the 2011 Motor Vehicle Value List. His commission carefully builds this Value List to rule out any potential claims of discrimination. He told me that if your car is not in this Value List, then the city or town can do anything it wants to set and adjust the vehicle's valuation. Our Bronco was not on the Value List.
Mr. Neary's process allows the state to overcome any suits associated with the uniformity of claims objection mentioned above. If a car or truck is included in this Value List, then Mr. Neary and his agency will make sure that it fits correctly, that the year-to-year curve is smooth. However, if the car or truck is not in the list, it becomes a city or town issue. That solves a big problem for the state. Lawsuits are avoided.
We in Warwick need to adopt Mr. Neary's process to ensure that our citizens' concerns are fairly addressed and the city is protected from a "claim of discriminatory level of assessment" lawsuit. Mr. Mallette and the mayor need to adopt an appeals process that would make sense to a judge. Claiming that our car tax mess is the fault of some nebulous state process invites disaster especially when the state administrator will simply pass the ball back to the city.
The Rhode Island Vehicle Value Commission has scheduled a public meeting for July 21 at 2 p.m. The location is the Legal Conference Room, Fourth Floor, One Capitol Hill, Providence. This is the administrative office building across Smith Street from the State Capitol. The stated "purpose of this meeting is to hear appeals and to discuss any other business which may come before the commission."
I plan to go there to see and hear what the commissioners think about our Warwick car and truck valuation mess.