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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

How to save on Charlestown Property Taxes

Why should the insiders get all the breaks?
By Will Collette
On July 1, the tax rate for 2015 will be $10.11 (Source:
Charlestown Tax Assessor)
All the necessary steps, including voter approval, have been taken to adopt a new 2016 budget for the Town of Charlestown for the fiscal year starting July 1. That new budget includes a new tax rate of $10.11 per $1000 of your property assessment, a 21 cent jump from the current rate of $9.90.

Your property tax bill is being prepared and will be mailed to you in early July.’s current median home value for Charlestown is $326,000. If your home is valued at that amount, you will pay $68.46 more this year as a result of the CCA Party’s continued rule over this town.

Since the Charlestown Citizens Alliance took control in 2008, they have raised the tax rate each and every year, whether needed to or not, for a total tax hike of 30%.

For the past several years, Progressive Charlestown has offered a number of articles on how you can pay lower property taxes. Even though the official rate is $10.11 per $1,000, that’s not the actual amount many Charlestown property owners pay due to a wide variety of credits, exemptions and tax breaks.

Tax policy is the way we express our social values by what we choose to tax and what we choose to exempt. For example, we value the blind and the disabled and offer a tax credit if you meet the criteria.

We sympathize with very low-income elderly people and have a special tax break for them.

We especially value veterans and offer an array of credits that can be combined to almost eliminate home and auto property taxes.

As a town, we value religion and in almost all cases, we do not tax property used for religious purposes. Similarly, we value the work of non-profit organizations and generally do not tax the property used for their organization’s non-profit mission. We do not tax federal or state owned property.

We value open space – in fact, in Charlestown, we practically worship open space, and accordingly give some amazing tax breaks by reducing assessed value.

Our CCA Party controlled town government also values rich people. Not only do a lot of the open space tax breaks go to upper class large property owners, but we also tolerate the existence of two fake fire districts – Shady Harbor and Central Quonochontaug - that come with special perks.  

CCA Party tax policy summed up
These fake fire districts don’t fight fires. They are actually upper crust civic associations that provide members with public water, snow removal, clubs, docks, private beaches, tennis courts, trash pick-up and more. They levy a property tax that allows their members to deduct the “tax” from their state and federal income taxes. 

In addition, the prime properties owned by these fake fire districts is either not taxed at all or are assessed at ridiculously low amounts.

There's one common and practical way to cut property taxes that is not available to full-time Charlestown residents, although many of our part-time residents have access to it in the places where they actually live. 

Charlestown does not follow the lead of many other vacation communities around the country and provide its year-round residents with a Homestead Tax credit or exemption. 

A fairly typical Quonnie property owner
A lot of Charlestown’s fake Floridians who have established residences of convenience in Florida not only do not pay state income tax, but in many Florida municipalities, their property taxes are reduced by the pretense that they are permanent Florida residents through very generous Homestead Tax exemptions.

But the CCA Party and its parent, the RI Statewide Coalition, thoroughly trashed the idea of a Homestead Tax Credit here in Charlestown because that would be “discriminatory” to our non-resident property owners and they might retaliate by moving their beach “cottages” to Sri Lanka. I’m kidding about that last part, but you get the picture.

Click here for the details on the middle-class tax relief program that was killed by the CCA.

After trashing the Homestead Tax Credit, the CCA folks came back with an alternative – RHOTAP, a program that they said would help working families in trouble. Under RHOTAP, if you were in trouble and needed property tax relief, you would go before a board of volunteers to tell your story and beg. And of course, you would have to open your life to public examination and, even if you qualified, the town would slap a lien on your property. I'm not making ANY of this up.

The proposal was so shockingly bad – degrading and possibly even illegal because it would give volunteer panelists access to personal financial information – that it has not been heard from since it was sent back for “review and revision. Click here for the juicy details.

But they tell us it's in our interests
The other CCA Party policies that were supposed to cut Charlestown’s property taxes were to (1) pay cash each year for major capital expenditures that would normally be financed through bonds; (2) keep families with children from moving into Charlestown to cut our Chariho School costs and (3) add more open space on the unproven theory that taking land off the tax rolls boosts the valuations of other properties.

The CCA Party has put all three of these measures into active practice over the past seven years. Every year, our budget contains capital expenditures paid for in cash and, in one case, we even paid off the low-interest federal loan for the Charlestown Police Station’s construction before the note was due. Our population has declined and the average age has gone up. And we know have well over 50% of Charlestown land as open space or publicly owned.

Yet instead of cutting taxes – as promised – our tax rate went up by 30%. How much longer do we have to run the experiments before we concede they do not work?

I look at the past seven years of tax policy in Charlestown and firmly believe that the average working family in Charlestown needs a break.

Absent a Homestead Tax Credit which will only be possible when the CCA Party is ousted from office, we will continue to see the relentless rise of taxes.

So over the next couple of weeks, we will run updated articles on how you might be able to reduce your property tax bills by seeing if you qualify – or might become eligible – for some of the existing tax breaks.

Final point. I believe that every person has a duty to pay the taxes they are legally required to pay. Taxes support those town services we receive (and our taxes are lower than, for example, Providence mainly because we provide very few town services). But we should understand that even if we don’t use a particular service, such as our schools, we must support them for the common good. We also have the right to a tax system that is fair and reasonable.

Watch for the series on how to pay less Charlestown property tax over the next couple of weeks.