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Friday, June 10, 2011

How to pay less taxes, Part 1

With this week’s passage of a 2011-2012 town budget, the next step is collecting the money to pay for it. Within the next three weeks, your new property tax bill will be dropped in the mail. If you’ve read Progressive Charlestown’s extensive tax coverage, you know that the chances are your new tax bill will be higher than last year’s.

In fact, unless your property’s assessed value dropped by 21% in the town’s recent reassessment, you will be paying more in property tax. Find out how much by first checking your new assessment versus your old assessment, and then use the Progressive Charlestown Magic Tax Calculator to get a preview of your new tax bill.

In the coming weeks, we’ll be providing you with information and tips on what you can do to make sure that you pay fair taxes consistent with the laws of our town.

We’ll detail how you can appeal your new assessment if you feel your home’s true value is different than what the town’s consultants say it’s worth.

We’ll also detail how the various tax exemption programs work, who qualifies and how you apply.

I’m going to start this series by detailing one of the very newest changes to the town’s tax ordinances, Ordinance #339 which was passed on May 9th.

This new ordinance is designed to give taxpayers who fall behind on their taxes a break due to a major illness or death in the family. It allows for a waiver of interest of up to $500 and for quarterly payments of the balance due.

This ordinance came about through the efforts of Charlestown Democratic Town Committee Treasurer Frank Glista. Frank asked the Town Council to provide some relief to taxpayers who, through no fault of their own, miss tax payments.

Before this ordinance was passed, anyone who missed a payment was charged interest retroactive to the beginning of the tax year, plus the entire year’s tax bill becomes immediately due. That will still be the case for everyone except those who meet the eligibility criteria in the ordinance.

Frank asked whether the scope of this tax relief could be extended to cover people who fall behind because of other circumstances, such as unemployment, but according to Peter Ruggiero, the town’s lawyer, Ordinance #339 is the maximum Charlestown is allowed to do under current state law.

To see the language of Charlestown’s current law on this subject, go to Chapter 192, sections 35 and 36 in Charlestown’s ordinance database.

Individual cities and towns in Rhode Island have remarkable latitude to design local property tax rules that suit their needs. All a town like Charlestown has to do is have our state Representatives and Senators to introduce and push the passage of enabling legislation – basically getting the state’s permission to make changes in the town’s tax code. Ruggiero suggested that route as the way to make the waiver of interest in hardship cases more broadly available to Charlestown residents.

Author: Will Collette