Taxes fuel frustrations for residents

Posted

Property tax bills for the first quarter of FY2020 were technically due yesterday. However, considering how some residents in Warwick only just received their bills on the original due date, the city’s decision to extend the deadline to July 31 is one that was born out of necessity.

It’s not exactly the city’s fault that bills were delayed in being sent out. The tax collector’s office transitioned from their makeshift offices at the former John Greene Elementary School, went through a computer system update just weeks before tax season started up and had to wait on the state to finalize the tax rate for motor vehicles within their budget before finalizing their own tax bills. On top of that, the printer that the city works with suffered a serious mechanical malfunction that pushed things back even more.

Regardless, throughout the past week residents have lined up dutifully within the Buttonwoods Community Center to make payments at the Tax Collector’s office. Many residents face total tax increases between $300 and $600, thanks to a recent re-assessment of property values in Warwick that resulted in properties in the “sweet spot” prince range (houses valued $200,000 to $300,000) to jump in value from anywhere between 15 to 35 percent in total value.

Although residential property tax rates for the most recent budget year actually decreased, the significant increases in home valuation has resulted in, for many – especially those who are on fixed incomes – a tax bill that hits significantly harder than even last year’s increase, when the Warwick City Council approved a budget that included the maximum 4 percent tax levy increase allowable by state law.

Don Fife has lived in Warwick his whole life, and has spent 49 years at his current address within the Gaspee neighborhood. His home that was valued at about $192,000 last year is now valued about $50,000 higher, resulting in a $650 increase in his total tax bill.

Fife, 77, is living off a combination of social security and a pension from his career as a computer operator for various manufacturing companies. He said that the increase has already affected his ability to spend money as opposed to prior years.

“That's a lot of money,” he said of his increase. “I'm on a fixed income. I don't have COLAs. I can't spend what I used to. I can't make any donations like I used to.” He mentioned several causes he enjoyed making donations towards, including the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, St. Jude’s Children Hospital and Saint Elizabeth Community.

Fife, who served abroad in Turkey during the Vietnam War, said he qualifies for the veterans and senior citizen tax exemptions, but that those exemptions haven’t kept pace with cost of living increases or the increases in taxes.

“Every time taxes go up, those should go up in proportion,” he said.

Others face even more drastic increases.

Jim Burns, a Warwick resident for about 25 years, said he just received his tax bill on Monday – which came at an increase of nearly $1,000 above last year’s total. Although Burns, a retired airline pilot, is in a good enough financial position to take the hit without worrying about his overall financial plight, he still has concerns about the way things have been going in the city.

“The city is in bad financial shape,” he said. “It's like spitting in the wind. You can complain all day and it's not going to do anything.”

Others are upset by what they perceive to be never-ending tax hikes year after year that don’t result in any discernible improvements to their surroundings.

Lifelong Warwick resident Sean McNamara, 39, who lives on Lakeshore Drive by Warwick Pond, was irritated by his increasing tax bill, which is now over $5,000 a year. He is especially frustrated since, he points out, road conditions in his neighborhood have not improved and environmental impacts caused by rising waters in Warwick Pond have caused him to lose up to 30 feet of his backyard.

“To know where the money was going would be nice,” he said. “They keep raising taxes and saying we have a deficit and they have to take sports away from kids in school…To see them taking away stuff like that because they say we don't have enough money, we’re the third largest city in the state, we should have enough money. That's just my opinion.”

The fiscal challenges seen in Warwick have prompted some to ponder whether or not the city could benefit from going into receivership, where a state-appointed receiver would have the authority to renegotiate collective bargaining agreements in the hopes to attain a more manageable financial picture. It is a solution that Mayor Joseph Solomon has continuously denounced as not an option. Regardless, to enter a state of receivership is out of the hands of local citizens or local government officials, as only the state Department of Revenue can start that process.

Still, that’s not stopping residents from pondering the idea.

“Warwick qualifies for receivership,” Fife said. “They should file for bankruptcy and re-negotiate these contracts and do it all over again.”

Fife called for a large presence at City Council meetings to ensure that city officials know that residents are getting uneasy.

“The people have to show up. That place should be packed wall to wall. If people don’t show up, they [City Council] do what they want,” he said. “What are they going to do, tax the people out of their homes?”

Comments

17 comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment
taxallyouwant

Warwick resident here. The city can tax all they want but it wont get them out of the grand canyon deficit they are currently in. Poor @*&#^!s we all are.

Tuesday, July 16
Cat

The only way out is to move out.

Tuesday, July 16
Hillsgrove Hal

I recently looked at the taxes being paid by the mayor and city council by using the city's website here: https://www.citizenselfservice.com/MSSProd/citizens/RealEstate/Default.aspx?mode=new

Mayor Solomon's total tax bill, based on four properties listed under his name, went down by nearly $600.

(703 West Shore Road, 1119 West Shore Road, 1129 West Shore Road, and 21 Crawford St. are those properties)

Councilman Ladouceur's tax bill, based on two properties listed under his name, went down by almost $2,400.

(106 Channel View and 1061 Warwick Ave. are those properties)

All of the other council members' tax bills went up, from $149 for Council President Merolla to $620 for Councilman Howe, except Councilman Sinapi, who rents.

Those increases are all less than the tax hikes mentioned by the residents in this article.

Also, no disrespect intended to Mr. Fife, but Warwick does not "qualify for receivership" and can not just "do it all over again."

We are stuck with this city council, their mismanagement, and the tax increases needed to fix it at least until next fall when we can vote them out of office.

Tuesday, July 16
Manny

CROOKS

Tuesday, July 16
timetomove

Looks like I be trying to find another spot in RI that doesn't tax it way to solvency. Shame

Tuesday, July 16
Fed up

Hal,

In fact Warwick does qualify for receivership and they have met the required 2 of 5 triggers. They have been late on the annual audit and they are showing a deficit for last year and this year. Those are the triggers according to the RI Fiscal Stability Act. If Solomon had the brains he would declare a fiscal emergency and begin making cuts allowed by law. But he is too busy going to photo ops and trying to be the next mini Buddy Cianci. He is a gutless shame and a blundering fool. We will all look back on his very short mayorship and laugh at the fool used car salesman that he is.

Tuesday, July 16
Hillsgrove Hal

Fed up, I've read the RI FSA and it includes an exemption for audits where the auditor general and department of revenue have approved extensions in the deadline to publish them.

So, the city has not met that condition because they got state approval for releasing the FY18 audit this late. (I seem to remember reading about a letter from the state giving that approval.)

And this year's budget may show a deficit on paper, but until the fiscal year ends next June 30 (and an audit is completed), it is not official and does not qualify the city for receivership.

Now, don't get me wrong, I don't disagree that if we keep going down this road, we will be looking at the state getting involved.

But at this point, the mayor and city council -- as hard as they're trying to avoid it -- have to make tough decisions on their own to get the city out of this mess, and they can't expect the state to bail them out or take the blame for it.

Tuesday, July 16
Bowdeen

25 -35% property tax rates are ridiculous ! My house was in the so called "sweet spot" value raised $70,000. If you don"t like it move you say. Those homes in the $15000-$250000 are no longer looking so sweet with the high taxes and poor schools. If you knew what you know now would you move your family here!!!

Tuesday, July 16
Fed up

Ha,

You are incorrect. Judge Flanders carefully reviewed Warwick's position. The city can ask for state intervention. They can also declare a fiscal emergency and begin making cuts to unsustainable legacy costs.

Tuesday, July 16
SaltyJake

Fed Up

Define unsustainable as it relates to the city finances. I believe you will find it is a rather broad term open to interpretation. And who does the interpretation, lawyers. And lawyers cost plenty of money........We can only hope Little Joey will take it on pro bono since he's a lawyer...and a politician........and a used car salesman....3 strikes !!! You're out !!!

Wednesday, July 17
revolutionneeded

Warwick and so many other places need a revolution to happen. Its past due. Start over. Nothing changes.

Wednesday, July 17
Hillsgrove Hal

Fed up, you mentioned the standards listed under FSA for state intervention, and I explained that the city doesn't meet those. Now you're changing the topic.

Unless Judge Flanders has been appointed by the state to oversee Warwick's finances, his opinion is just that -- an opinion.

From what I read about his presentation, Flanders used Central Falls as an example; Warwick is nowhere near being in that kind of condition. The recent reval shows that the city had a good part of its residential property that went up in value (and thus can be taxed more). Central Falls had several decades of falling property values, as I recall, meaning it basically ran out of the capacity to raise taxes. That's why the state took over the schools; the city couldn't pay for them any more.

And if Warwick declared a "fiscal emergency," some state bureaucrat would tell the mayor and city council to address the problem by raising taxes and cutting services first, and then determine whether a more intrusive state intervention is needed.

Warwick has the capacity to fix the problems itself.

What it doesn't have right now is elected officials who are willing make the tough decisions.

That's not enough to justify the state taking over the city's finances, no matter what a retired judge might say.

You can call for the state to get involved all you want, but the result will be much, much worse than if Solomon and the council did the tough work themselves.

Wednesday, July 17
bill123

If anyone wants to help do something, please ask the city to post on its website the Sales Ratio Study report for the last mass appraisal (the so-called property "reval"), which purportedly set everyone's property values. If you want to know what an SRS is, do some research. The city, and this very paper, should have explained this, instead of providing non-informative fluff.

Wednesday, July 17
bill123

If anyone wants to help do something, please ask the city to post on its website the Sales Ratio Study for the last Mass Appraisal (the so-called “reval”), which purportedly set everyone’s property values. The city (and certain others) should have already explained the significance of this.

Wednesday, July 17
ThatGuyInRI

We are not "over taxed" and the recent increase is not outrageous.

Let me explain.

Using myself as a an example, let's look at what my takes get me vis a vie the school system.

According to RIDE, the per pupil expendature in Warwick is $17,242 yearly.

I have two children in the system, each will go from Kindergarden through high school, 13 years each, 26 total.

So ignoring inflation, $17,242 times 26 is $448,292.

Recently, my taxes were increased to roughly $4,800/year, but only 51% goes to the school system, so I'm contributing $2,448/year to the school system.

This means that (at current rates) in order to repay the city for my children's education, I will have to continue to pay taxes for a total of just over 183 years.

I will never pay my fair share for my children's education and neither will you. And don't give me the "I don't have kids" or "my kids went to school in another town" argument because the fact is that your parents won't live long enough to pay for the education you got.

The difference between what you pay and what costs actually are is made up in corporate tax rates.

This leads into the whole "Rhode Island is the worst state for business" story which is true from a certain perspective. We can certainly lower corporate tax rates and increase business in the state. The trade off for that would be much higher residential property taxes. Who is going to sign up for that?

To sum: Our taxes are not outrageous, they are not high, the fact of the matter is that almost no individual or family pay their fair share in taxes. The tax burden is born by companies.

Do some research before you complain.

Friday, July 19
fuckwarwick

just like the names says %^@*&warwick

Friday, July 19
Patient Man

ThatGuyInRI,

You don't have a clue about what properly run towns look like or what normal taxes are. IRS data shows RI is 7th highest overall tax burden.

Tuesday, July 23