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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sign of the times: Taxes and WTF?

Strange message from the CCA
Very strange campaign sign spotted on Old Post Road
By Will Collette

The first part of this CCA sign’s message – that tax rates should be equal for all property owners – is clear enough, though the “of course” answer is hardly self-evident.

That’s because the CCA only wants you to look at tax RATES, while ignoring the other key factor that determines how much tax you pay – the tax ASSESSMENT. They also don’t want a review that examines whether it really is fair to apply the same RATE to all properties, regardless of use. 

Just because a tax rate is the same does not, by any stretch of logic, make it inherently fair. Indeed, flat taxes are generally considered inherently unfair – why is it fair to charge the same rate to a gazillionaire from Greenwich CT on a multimillion-dollar McMansion as an elderly widow in a trailer home?

Most of the CCA's campaign cash comes from non-residents -
the CCA actually tried to disguise this by listing their addresses as
their Charlestown vacation homes on their campaign disclosure report

Click read to read more.
Town Democrats proposed giving a tax credit to the majority of Charlestown homeowners – people who actually make Charlestown their home. A tax credit for Charlestown residents, and the other key provision of the Democratic proposal – a no-harm provision for Charlestown small business – would mean taxes would shift to NONRESIDENT property owners. That’s the folks who own a second, third or even fourth home in Charlestown, or own investment property.

These nonresidents would pay a higher Charlestown property tax to give the majority – middle-class homeowners – a break.

The CCA screams that this is unfair to rich people. They used their control over the Town Council to kill the Democratic proposal and, later, to kill an alternative proposal to at least study tax fairness in Charlestown.

My personal answer to the CCA's hand-wringing over unfairness to the rich is “so what?” but my less intemperate colleagues point out several important fairness factors in favor of the Homestead credit.  

First, as a result of the 2011 Charlestown property revaluation, most properties worth more than $1 million (and more than two-thirds of those properties are owned by nonresidents) received what amounted to a 7% reduction in taxes.

Second, just about every state where our nonresident property owners make their actual home offers them a homestead tax credit like the one town Democrats proposed for Charlestown. If these nonresidents think Homestead credits are unfair, let them organize against them in their home states, rather than fund the CCA’s 2012 political campaign to preserve their bargain-basement tax deal in Charlestown.

As the CCA likes to point out, the nonresident property owners with big-ticket houses on the water pay high taxes on their expensive properties. Again, my personal reaction is “so what?” You buy a $6 million beachside estate and, yes, you will be taxed more than a senior citizen living in a small condo in Castle Rock. Again, so what?

Our millionaire summer crowd requires Charlestown to maintain a police force, public safety and transportation infrastructure designed and sized for their safety and comfort, even though they only live here a few months out of the year – a cost we all pay for.

They don’t pay Rhode Island income tax, which provides municipal aid to the town and highway maintenance, again for the benefit of our summer visitors who don’t pay that tax.

These are all reasons why their own home states grant homestead exemptions to permanent residents, but to the CCA, it would be unfair to apply that same principle to Charlestown. If we do, our millionaire nonresidents might move their McMansions to China or the Cayman Islands.

And I don’t want to hear another CCA screed about schoolchildren. I am sick to death of the CCA treating children as if they were parasites, even to the point of publishing a math formula purported to “prove” that point. I don’t have kids but I am willing to pay taxes to support their education and upbringing since I would like to see the human race continue.

Maybe the CCA views human life as parasitic – it interferes with the grasshopper sparrows’ enjoyment of open space – but I think it’s time to take children off the table when talking about what budget items are optional.

But the CCA does not represent Charlestown's working families. If you examine the CCA’s campaign finance report, it makes you wonder why the CCA decided to conceal the actual hometowns of the people paying the big bucks.

In my opinion, the CCA represents the nonresident wealthy and, on the tax issue, they do so at the expense of the people who live here.

What’s up with the second message?

So what is the CCA talking about with that second question – “shouldn’t open communication between citizens, town employees, elected town officials and outside agencies be considered a GOOD thing? OF COURSE!”

I don’t get it. Is there somebody running for office who says that communication is a bad thing? What point is the CCA trying to make?

Maybe this is an obscure reference to Ruth Platner’s secret dealings to undermine Ted Veazey’s conservation development (the original plan favored by the Westerly YMCA for its abandoned campground) or her private prodding of Charlie Vandemoer, the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s overseer for Charlestown, that launched the Battle for Ninigret Park. I just don’t know what they’re talking about. 

The CCA’s big problem – based on their actual record – is that they generally talk only among themselves and with those they consider to be political allies. They ignore town commissions they don’t control – and that includes Conservation, Economic Improvement, Parks & Rec, and Affordable Housing. They don’t respond to individual citizens who disagree with them. And as for town staff, the CCA either purges them, terrorizes them into submission or treats them like go-fers.

As I keep trying to puzzle out the second question, the more it seems like an arcane way to rationalize two of the CCA’s biggest embarrassments over the past two years – Y-Gate and the Battle for Ninigret Park. 

Despite their humiliation, though, both issues generated more campaign cash for the CCA from Arnolda and from those who stood to gain from the Y-Gate scam. So maybe that second question is just the CCA’s code to its backers that “we’re with you and definitely not with them.”