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Friday, March 25, 2011

Class War in Charlestown: Kallie Gets Her Wish

Kallie Jurgens has been complaining about her tax assessment for a long time. In a September 2005 Providence Journal article, she complained her ocean-view Shady Harbor property was assessed too damned high. Apparently unfamiliar with the real estate concept of “location, location, location,” Kallie complained that "I pay twice the taxes of someone north of Route 1."

To fight back, she and other out-of-state property owners formed the RI Shoreline Coalition, now the RI Statewide Coalition (RISC), to win voting rights for absentee landowners in local elections. Then they could vote against anything that might raise their taxes. Like schools.  

A few full-time, South of One residents, such as Tom DePatie, also were part of forming RISC, presumably because they thought their taxes were too damned high as well.

Kallie, her neighbors Richard and Marge Newton, Tom DePatie and others later formed the Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA) when Jim Mageau’s brief rise to power created a chance for the South of One Anti-Taxers to coalesce with other anti-Mageau Charlestown residents.
But taxes keep Kallie on the boards of RI Statewide Coalition, as well as president of CCA, even though she and her husband declare their residence to be a condo in Stuart, Florida.

The new Charlestown tax assessments give Kallie what she has long desired: a drastic cut in taxable value. Her property value dropped 24.4%, from $796,600 to $602,300. Her neighbor and fellow CCA leader Richard Newton even did a little better, seeing his taxable value drop by 25.5%, from $568,300 to $423,400.

Kallie has gotten her wish in another, perhaps even more important, way: her taxes will be a lot lower under the tax rate Charlestown needs to break even on revenue. Because of the 15% drop in the value of the tax base, the new break-even tax rate will need to rise from the current $7.48/1000 to around $8.75.

Using the new tax calculator only available on Progressive Charlestown, Kallie’s taxes will drop by 12% and her neighbors the Newtons should see a 13% drop (and a $150 veterans exemption).
Other prominent CCA members don’t do so well. Tom DePatie actually saw the assessment on his $1,216,900 estate climb by 2.4% to $1,245,800. Tom wrote a 2/10/11 letter in Westerly Sun giving advance warning about Charlestown’s shrinking tax base. Glad to see him do his best to pump up the tax base. This will cost him a 20% hike in his taxes. But he can offset his tax bill with a $100 senior citizen tax exemption.

The two properties Council President and CCA leader Tom Gentz and his wife own on Sea Breeze only dropped by 10.1%, from $1,378,400 to $1,239,200. His taxes will rise by about 5%.

Kate Waterman’s property dropped 17% of its value, from $940,000 to $780,300. That larger than average drop in value will translate into a 3% drop in taxes before she deducts her $150 veterans exemption and $100 senior citizen exemption.

And if you’re wondering how our colleagues on the Democratic Town Committee made out, after running them through the tax calculator, all of them face tax increases. One member is looking at a hike of 36%. The only two exceptions were Tom Ferrio and I. Because of a 19% drop in his assessment, Tom’s taxes are likely to be 5% less. Cathy and I will face a tax increase of $2, meaning we more or less break even after a 15% drop in assessment.

All this information is public record. You can look up anyone in town and find out how much their property is worth, before and after the reappraisal and how much they pay in taxes.

As data from Charlestown Tax Assessor Ken Swain shows, assessments dropped more on big-ticket properties – in the range of 19 to 22% - than for mid-range homes (13 to 15%). The new break-even tax rate will drastically shift Charlestown’s tax burden from owners of big-ticket properties (many of whom are non-residents) to middle-income Charlestown residents.

Now that Kallie has gotten what she wants, will she declare victory in the class war?

I doubt it.

AUTHOR: Will Collette