No tax relief for
residents, but an early Christmas for Sonquipaug neighborhood. Charlestown
Here's a message from our Town Council majority: We shouldn't give struggling Charlestown residents a tax break. However, we SHOULD spend those same taxpayers' money to take yet another valuable parcel of land off the tax rolls and into our growing inventory of open space. As a gift to a small neighborhood of non-resident property owners.
That was the message from the Town Council last Monday when they sided with non-resident millionaire home owners to reject the proposed $1000 Homestead Tax Credit while approving money to begin the acquisition process for the derelict 27.5 acre YMCA Camp on Watchaug Pond.
|Ted Veazey's site plan - |
could have added $5+ million to the tax base
The neighbors to the south, the Sonquipaug Neighborhood which is comprised mostly of owners of vacation homes, objected, since they were using the Y Camp as an extension of their backyards.
By caving in to pressure from these non-residents, the Council effectively took at least $5 million worth of taxable property off the table. And worse, the Council then created the issue of what to do with the land. Some money to purchase the property has been raised in a matching grant from RIDEM.
|Get lost, kid. We spent the money on more open space|
When you listen to the proponents of this deal talk about it - go to Clerkbase to see for yourself - at times, they describe the land as if it was as precious and pristine as Yosemite National Park. At other times - like when they talked about money - the description of the site seemed more like a dump. The latter description seems more appropriate to a site with 15 derelict buildings and ancient, leaking cesspools. Acadia, it isn't.
Plus, it seems like the only thing the Charlestown Land Trust really wants to do is take title to the property and, of course, the credit. They want town taxpayers to buy the land and the town to take responsibility for it. According to the proposal, the total package - so far - is $942,000. But that could go up - maybe by a lot - after true numbers come in for the cost of demolition, cleaning up the leaking cesspools and who knows what else, and they decide whether to save and rehab one of the buildings. There's the RIDEM grant of $367,000 and a vague hope that $100,000 in private donations will come in, but otherwise all of this is on the backs of
Again, this project was green-lighted at the same Town Council meeting where a proposed $1000 tax credit for 2,600 families – cost: $2.6 million – was rejected. We give up at least $5 million that would have been added to the tax base under Ted Veazey's rejected conservation development. AND the town may have to lay out somewhere between half a million and a million to buy and clean up this not-so-pristine patch of non-wilderness. And we won't even own the land.
We're making this a “gift” to the Sonquipaug non-resident NIMBYs when the lost revenue and the costs could have funded the $1000 Homestead Tax Credit.
The chair and vice-chair of the Conservation Commission both challenged the process the town seemed to be taking, noting that there is no immediate need to move hastily since the recently awarded RIDEM matching grant allowed 14 months for the Charlestown Land Trust to raise the money.
Instead of using that time to raise funds from their own donor base, the Charlestown Land Trust, with the YMCA’s enthusiastic support, wants to fast-track the purchase, with the intention to bring a final proposal to the Town Council in January or February.
Not so fast, says the Conservation Commission, They noted that they were not consulted nor was the usual protocol of asking them to do a formal review and advisory opinion requested.
As Chris Keegan wrote in the Wednesday print edition of the Westerly Sun, Conservation Commission Vice-Chair Grace Klinger noted the town already has a lot of open space property that needs care and management. Taking on another expensive responsibility may not be wise and could harm the town's ability to take care of the land it already owns.
|Looking for more open space|
The full financial impact of the proposed YMCA camp purchase has not been completed either, as was clear when Councilor
Lisa DiBello asked Tax Assessor Ken Swain to provide some data on the amount of open space already on the books.
Swain took the podium and answered that he estimated a total of 42% of
’s total land area is currently non-taxable. This includes federal, state and municipal property and private land owned by non-profits for tax-exempt purposes. Charlestown
Swain said that if you added land granted special tax breaks as farm, forest or open space, the total land mass in town that is either not taxed or barely taxed is over 50%.
Case in point: the 13.5 acres of land owned by Charlestown Planning Commissar Ruth Platner and her husband
Cliff Vanover fall into that latter category. Their 13.5 acres, 2436 square foot home and outbuildings are assessed at only $203,100.
Several years ago,
voters approved a $1 million Open Space and Recreation bond issue. But there is around $100,000 currently available in cash. If the YMCA acquisition goes forward with Charlestown putting up all or most of the money, the town will have to take on debt – issue bonds – to raise the cash. Charlestown
All of this comes about because Boston lawyer Joann D’Alcomo and her Sonquipaug Neighborhood NIMBY organization killed Ted Veazey’s conservation development plan.
On Monday night, the RI Statewide Coalition and Charlestown Citizens Alliance brought out their supporters, some coming from 100 miles away according to their own accounts, to argue against the $1000 Homestead Tax Credit. “Harry’s Kids” came in their worn cashmere to cry about how they just didn’t think it was fair that their million-dollar vacation homes should be subject to higher taxes.
They just can’t afford to pay another $2000 in taxes on a $2 million beach cottage and just might have to cut back on their charitable giving or transactions with local businesses.
And we had some
residents stand up and say, yeah, we need to kowtow to the non-resident rich or something bad might happen to us. And shame on Charlestown Democrats for even suggesting that Charlestown residents need a break. Charlestown
The $1000 Homestead Tax Credit would cost $2.6 million or less. The Christmas present to the non-residents in the little Sonquipaug neighborhood has already cost
at least $5 million that would have been added to our tax based under the Veazey conservation development proposal. Charlestown
And now at least another $470,000 to buy the property. And at least another $100,000 or more to maintain it. Figuring on "cost creep," we may have to put up a million dollars to give the land to the Charlestown Land Trust, largely for the benefit of the Sonquipaug neighborhood.
$1000 Tax Credit for town residents = bad. Free extended backyards for Sonquipaug non-residents = good.
Monday night, the majority on the Charlestown Town Council — Tom Gentz, Deputy Dan Slattery and Lisa DiBello — showed their priorities. Those priorities are those of the Charlestown Citizens Alliance and the RI Statewide Coalition, who see the interests of Charlestown's elite and millionaire non-resident property owners to be more important than the 2600 families who make Charlestown their home.
This bunch — the CCA, RISC and the Council majority — say it's divisive to bring up such matters. When you stand up instead of bending over, they call it "class war." But for us, December 12 was more like December 7.