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Monday, May 26, 2014

How to pay less in Charlestown property taxes

Practical tips to make sure you don’t pay more than your fair share
weinventyou animated GIFBy Will Collette
Soon, Charlestown voters will go to the polls to approve the town’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget for the year starting July 1. 
Coincidentally, July 1 is the first day in the tax year and soon after, you will receive your property tax bill from the town and from whichever local Fire District you live in.
There is little doubt the proposed budget will be approved even though it contains the sixth property tax increase in a row, adding to the unbroken string of tax hikes by the ruling Charlestown Citizens Alliance which has controlled town government since 2008.
The CCA Party tries to explain that Rhode Island law allows Charlestown to raise taxes even higher, as if that’s supposed to be some consolation to us. But if you believe, as I do, that just because you can do a thing doesn’t mean you should, then you probably agree that this CCA blandishment is meaningless.


Gentz's claim that Charlestown is 4th lowest for taxes is FALSE
The CCA Party also claims that, despite its constant tax increases, Charlestown taxes are still among the lowest in the state – most recently, Town Council Boss Tom Gentz claimed Charlestown has the fourth lowest taxes. But Boss Gentz’s claim is deceptive since Charlestown does not offer services that are built into other municipalities’ tax bills. Plus, like all statistics, the numbers can be tortured to say anything.
GoLocalProv did its own ranking of municipal taxes based on how much actual tax collections increased and found that Charlestown was not fourth from the bottom, as Gentz claimed, but actually ranked #20 out of 39 cities and towns. Smack dab in the middle, and again, that’s without adjusting for how few municipal services we receive which would push us well up into the top half of municipal taxers.
Both the tax rate – the amount per $1,000 in property valuation – and the overall amount of taxes will increase under the new budget. In the town’s recent town-wide revaluation, some of you received lower valuations on your homes (e.g. ours went down 3.7%) and some went up. Most of the increased valuations were in high-end homes near the water, which makes sense since they have been selling better than lower-end homes.
If you want to know what your new tax bill is going to be, multiply the new assessment value you received from the town by 0.00987. On a $300,000 home, that comes to $2,967.
I wrote a seven-part series of articles with practical tips on how to deal with the cost of taxes in 2011 and have occasionally updated it. The basic nuts and bolts of how to cut your taxes is there for you to examine and use, if it applies to you.
I have created a special tag for those seven articles called “pay less taxes” which gives you all seven articles with one click.
Those articles reflect the situation in 2011 when most middle-class Charlestown taxpayers faced a big jump in taxes because of the drastic drop in town property values after the recession. The most recent revaluation also showed a drop, but not as extreme.
Nonetheless, you have no moral or legal duty to pay more taxes than what you owe, so if you are a veteran, a low-income seniorcitizen, 100% disabled, blind, have set aside all or part of your land as forest, farm or open space, or operate a church or religious institution, you might qualify for a tax break on your Charlestown property taxes.
There are several tax breaks for veterans, provided they have not been dishonorably discharged, including a standard $150 credit with additional credits for disabled veterans, former POWs and “Gold Star” families who have lost a close family member during wartime. Veterans can qualify for more than one tax break – I’ve seen one who has earned four such credits totaling $1,725 a year. If you do not own a home, your tax credit can be applied to your motor vehicle tax.
If you collect Social Security Disability, SSI or an equivalent disability-based program, you may qualify for a $575 annual tax credit. Under a recently passed town ordinance, you only have to prove your disability once, rather than every year as in the past.
Charlestown once granted all elderly residents a tax credit but changed that some years ago to restrict it to low-income senior citizens only. However, there are still some elderly residents who were “grandfathered” (or “grand mothered” as the case may be) and still get the credit.
Several of our CCA Party leaders have used the more obscure state-municipal tax break system that allows for dramatically lower assessments if you place all or part of your property off limits to any use other than as “farm, forest or open space.”
The best break of all is reserved for religious leaders and groups who can get a full ride from the town if their property is used as a place of worship. I am anticipating that much of Partridge Run may become tax-exempt if it is turned into a contemplative center as the His Holiness Ron Areglado indicated in speaking against additional music events at Ninigret Park.
As an xmas gift, my nephew Chris bought me an ordination in the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. If Areglado ever gets his ashram tax-exempted, I'll be right behind him asking for a full exemption for my own shrine to the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
Charlestown currently does not tax 15 properties valued at $9.8 million because they are the sites of 12 churches and three parsonages. The religious tax credit will save those property owners $97,000 in property taxes. Of course, that means the rest of us carry that cost ourselves.
If, after reading the description of the tax breaks in my seven-part series, you believe you qualify, you should immediately talk to Charlestown Tax Assessor Ken Swain (364-1233) to (a) find out for sure if you do qualify; (b) take the necessary steps to file the paperwork (disabled or low-income elderly) and the proof needed to verify your claim. It may be too late to get an exemption credited against your tax bill this year, but I suggest you take action as soon as possible.
That’s essentially what tax breaks do. They reflect a decision to provide a benefit for certain types of persons and certain types of property uses that become a liability to others. Usually, we willingly accept those decisions as a proper expression of our community’s priorities (certainly the case for veterans, the elderly and the handicapped).
When Charlestown residents asked the CCA Party-controlled Town Council to consider a homestead tax credit for those of us who make Charlestown our permanent home, this proposal was vehemently attacked by the CCA Party and the RI Statewide Coalition as divisive and unfair. 
How dare we suggest that people who live here and pay state income taxes that provide about 25% of Charlestown’s support get a break while non-residents who don’t contribute to state income taxes don’t get the same break?
The same could be said by property owners who are not veterans. Or not religious. Or not handicapped. Or who don’t own a farm. But they don’t say these things because they would be labelled as very bad people.
This is an election year and I hope voters remember how much it has cost them in added taxes to support the town lifestyle the CCA Party has chosen for us, including the costly special deals the CCA Party cooked up for its supporters. And I hope they remember how viciously the CCA Party attacked the idea of giving actual residents of Charlestown a tax break if it meant that their campaign donor base – mainly non-resident, out-of-state owners – might have to pay a little more.