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Budget Commission Tables Supplemental Tax Vote Till Tuesday

Tax Assessor presents five options, sparing commercial taxpayers gets nod.


Chris Celeste, Woonsocket tax assessor, presented five plans for collecting the annual extra $2.5 million the city needs to balance its books, with one Budget Commissioner weighing in for commercial taxpayers.

The rest of the Commission took his lead.

"I'm a bad guy on this," warned member Peder Schaefer, noting his opinion that the difference between the commercial and residential tax rates is too high, and the earlier plan to phase-out the homestead exemption through 2026 is too slow.

According to the tax assessor's page on the city website, the residential rate is $32.26 per $1,000 valuation. The commercial rate is $38.27 per $1,000 valuation.

But the homestead exemption gives taxpayers in single-family homes and condos a 39 percent break for tax year 2012 (FY2013), which will be reduced by three percent annually through 2026, when it will end.  

"It seems to me the equitable solution is to take care of this now rather than over a long period of years," Schaefer said, referring to the Celeste's Option B/Option 3, which reduces the 39 percent homestead exemption to 27 percent, taxing the difference to make up the entire $2.5 million.

That option would send the average single family taxpayer currently benefiting from the homestead exemption a bill for $547.38. 
Celeste said Option B/Option3 addresses both the homestead exemption and the high commericial rate, which he said is driving businesses like Staples, Lowes and Walmart out of the city. "What we want to do is try to avoid more of that," Celeste said.

Schaefer asked Celeste if he agreed the commercial rate was too high. "It's obviously too much," Celeste replied.

Then Schaefer asked if Option 3/Option B fixed the problem. "It begins to," Celeste said, saying that while the homestead exemption should be phased out, doing it over 14 years isn't a good idea. 

The options Celeste outlined were: (see attached .pdf for a breakdown of the impact of each on the average taxpayer):

Option A 1: All property owners get a bill that's 4.5 percent of last year's tax. 
Option A 2: Residential and motor vehicle owners receive a bill that's 4.5 percent of last year's tax. Commercial taxpayers will not be assessed for the supplemental tax. 
Option B 3: Reduce the 39 percent homestead exemption to 27 percent, taxing the difference for single-family home and condo owners.
Option B 4: Issue tax bills, canceling out all exemptions.
Option B 5: Issue tax bills at one rate for all classes, commercial included. 

While he prefered Opton B, "I want to be in a position to defend it," Schaefer said, asking Ward's opinion.

"I know a lot of people will be shocked by the bill. I expect that I would, on my house," but, he said, the city has one of the highest commercial tax rates in the state. "We need to make sure that we don't make that worse," Ward said.

"It's going to be painful, but it's a faster way to achieve a goal, and then we can look at the exemptions that we should have corrected nine years ago, for those people who should qualify for them, and deal with that then. There's no easy answer, in any of this," Ward said.

The Commission seemed poised for a vote as Schaefer made a motion to approve Option B, but members said they wanted to disucsss the details to make sure they didn't rush the vote. "The last thing I want is for us to get down to the state house and in the middle of the hearing have somebody say, 'No,' " Ward said. 

Mayor Leo Fontaine said he'd like to add motor vehicle taxes into the mix for Option B, noting that's the direction the Commission seemed to be headed in. He said adding vehicle taxes would make sure renting residents of the city participate in solving the problem. The move would show, he said, "That that other sector of the population that have not been contributing is now part of the solution."

"I don't see any reason you couldn't add motor vehicles into it," Schaefer said.

Ward warned that adding motor vehicles into Option B would need some tweaking to avoid hitting homeowners twice, since most also own cars.

The Commission tabled the vote for more discussion next Tuesday, Feb. 26, at 2 p.m., at City Hall, in Harris Hall. 

Nelson Aldrich February 20, 2013 at 02:03 PM
Once again,these bozos should be at the State House lobbying for a partial default on Woonsocket's debt.Sooner or later,there will be hell to pay,they're just shifting the burden even more,the General Assembly is in session and Woonsocket's creditors walk away untouched plus tax free interest!
MAE February 20, 2013 at 02:10 PM
I don't know if any of the budget commission members or city council read these posts but...I am telling you right now 1) I can't pay anymore. 2) I will take a loss on my house or foreclose and leave. I have been contemplating selling for a while but this will be the straw. I absolutely can't do it anymore. Woonsocket sucks! Guess the budget commission never heard of a resident tax...yeah you have to change a few laws etc...guess that's too hard for them to do. Better to burden the homeowners twice...Real estate AND property tax. If I stay here, I can't have nice things because I have to pay for a city that doesn't know how to manage their finances or fix their streets or equipment and they are making it so that I can't afford to fix mine. John Ward...I AM DONE!!! Seriously, I'll walk away one way or another.
jason February 20, 2013 at 02:59 PM
whats the diffrents between what ward and fontaine think ethier way the sam people pay all the taxes this makeing it fair so we'll split the rate hikes between exsise and property taxes is crap! the people the own homes also need reliable cars to get to work you know the thing that only a 1/4 of our city population dose. that means they have the cars with the most value. so this we want to make it fair is just hog wash. want to make it fair make everyone pay something includeing all the people that live in the projects. or the city knows when my lawn is to high or house needs to be painted how about they find out who lives in the city but has a car registered somewhere else
bob b. February 20, 2013 at 05:09 PM
Wishfull thinking Dick,those words are not in their vocabulary. The only thing they have in all of these plans are more taxes. Hopefully it will not fly at the statehouse.
Nelson Aldrich February 20, 2013 at 05:26 PM
Nothing says these aren't my debts like leaving,big box stores know it,homeowners will catch on too.The snowball is picking up speed.
jason February 20, 2013 at 05:27 PM
it wont be a ghost town novan for life after all the single family home owners move out it will be a city of union workers and free loaders
regretful homeowner February 20, 2013 at 05:29 PM
Jason is right. The people in this city who work hard and pay their bills when they are due are the ones that get screwed. We need to get those residents living in subsidized housing and apartments included too. How about this? How about anyone who owns a single family home and pays their outrageous property taxes gets an exemption from auto excise taxes? I mean, that's fair right??? Why make the people who work hard have to sacrifice a nice vehicle for a POS just because they can't afford property and excise taxes at the same time. $900.00 for excise taxes and $3500 for property?? That's more than the principal and interest on my mortgage!! GET FONTAINE AND WARD TO RESIGN THEN WE'LL TALK!
Nelson Aldrich February 20, 2013 at 05:44 PM
There's no such thing as a municipal bankruptcy in RI.A reciever won't change anything,he or she will not be able to discharge any of Woonsocket's debt.State law won't allow it.
Steve February 20, 2013 at 07:05 PM
Roger, here's B6: Fire the Mayor and his Secretary and hire a part time city representative Savings $167,000.00 Make the City Council voluntary Savings $78,000.00 Close the Public Library Savings $1,520,000.00 Fire 2 of the home or building inspectors in the city Savings $120,000.00 Police Dept. (96 total budgeted positions not including civilians) Fire 1 - Detective Lieutenant, 3 - Detective Sergeants, 4 - Detective Officers Savings $550,000.00 Fire Department (172 total budgeted positions) Fire 1 - Deputy Chief, 3 - Captains, 4 - Lieutenants Savings $720,000.00 Public Service Division (45 total budgeted positions) Fire 2 - labor forepersons, 3 - laborers, 1- utility person Savings $225,000.00 Economic Director fired Savings $110,000 School System, Close 2 schools and consolidate students/faculty into the new Middle School Savings 3 + million dollars Total yearly savings around 6.4 Million dollars!
regretful homeowner February 20, 2013 at 07:46 PM
So let me get this straight... You wanted 12 1/2% supplemental tax last year but since you didn't get that you're going to get your 12% anyways? At least last year's supplemental tax bill was only going to be approx. $450.00 now it's going to be closer to $600.00. Nice, people. Real nice.
Jerilyn Delasanta Smith February 20, 2013 at 07:53 PM
I really saddens me to know that our taxes are going up ..again..my husband and I have been looking to sell our house and move elsewhere. All the big stores have left. Pretty soon we'll see tumbles weeds on Main Street... It's very frustrating. No wonder why people move into apartments here. They PAY NO TAXES!!!!!
Memere February 20, 2013 at 08:08 PM
I understand that their is a massive budget shortfall,but the homeowners of Woonsocket did not create this mess and we cannot afford to pay anymore in taxes/. Many people have already sold their houses and have left the city and many more are seriously thinking of doing so, myself included. This budget plan is definitely not the answer to our problems. As for those stores leaving Woonsocket, I believe that they would have left anyway as they are paying taxes in NS also. I think they left because of the economic and civic climate in this city. No Business want to associate itself with a dying community and this community is looking pretty shabby right now. What business would want to move into a community where most of the homeowners are desperate to leave because they can't afford to live there? How will the stores make money if the residents are so overtaxed that they can only afford to shop in outlets if at all? The climate in this city needs to change for it to become successful.
rene carpentier February 20, 2013 at 10:10 PM
Homeowners,we need too stand together and fight city and state goverment this city is going down the sewer and dragging us with it. Enough is Enough I am also ready to pack my bags and never been late on any bill from our city counsel proposed tax illusions.We are one of the highest taxed city in the state, and there is no beach sand in my backyard. Hardworking and sick of the B.S.
Jay February 20, 2013 at 11:03 PM
Great solutions. Just tax all the homeowners to death. Motivate the taxpayers to leave ASAP. Obviously the businesses are leaving. Wal-Mart, Staples, and Lowes-all gone. Is there no plan C or D?
Steve February 20, 2013 at 11:17 PM
So we take these cuts, coupled with the 4.5 million saved with the consolidation of union Blue Cross medical benefits, and all of a sudden we're talking 10+ million in savings per year! Hmmmm, Mr. Ward and Co, that's '"Out of the box" thinking! And an additional point, I haven’t addressed the possibility of withdrawing from the existing pension fund balance to pay off a bond that the city pays millions of dollars of interest on per year. That will be a topic of another post.
Mew February 21, 2013 at 12:15 AM
If this hearing is a public ond I hope many of you people attend and make your feelings known, Everyone of you have written great comments, I think we should let them know how we all feel. They have to know we are not happy with this commission or WARD & FONTAINE!!! I have a better title for the two of them but, I don't think it's printable. I know Im out of here in the spring.!!!!!
Nelson Aldrich February 21, 2013 at 12:48 PM
Good for you.While i'm stuck here for the time being,i also plan to leave.The five year plan won't work without a vibrant economy and good jobs.The whole country is going down the drain,cities and towns all over are bankrupt or about to become bankrupt.I fear Woonsocket's one of the first dominoes to fall.That being said...i'm sure there's better places to live than this. Hey Chafee,where's all this municipal aid your talking about?
jason February 21, 2013 at 01:27 PM
hey mew i hope the next hearing is public i would think it would have to be because of open meeting laws unfortunetly the problem is wether its the buget comm. the city council or the school comm. it seems whenever they talk about raising taxes or makeing stupid policy that hut the kids it seems all those meetings and work shops are always in the middle of a WORK DAY!!!! so they dont have to get confronted by the people that end up paying the taxes because thier WORKING!!!! hey budget comm. try haveing some of these meetings at 6 or 7 at night hen the people that work 7-430 can attend without haveing to miss time at work
Paradis February 21, 2013 at 02:42 PM
We ought to all put "ABANDONING SOON" or " THANKS FOR KILLING OUR AMERICAN DREAM" signs on our properties to let the officials know how this will affect us...and them. Perhaps they haven't noticed all the abandoned/foreclosed properties already littering the city? Maybe they will take notice when hundreds of us put up warning signs. The special interest catering, secrecy, unfairness and lack of respect towards property owners/taxpayers is unbelievable!
Mew February 21, 2013 at 11:54 PM
GREAT COMMENT PARADIS!!!!
Memere February 22, 2013 at 07:27 AM
Good Idea - I'm sure the TV stations would make a big deal out of this!!!
MAE February 22, 2013 at 02:11 PM
Well said, Paridis. I am inviting the Mayor, City Council, Budget Commission etc to the MOVING SALE I plan on having very soon...maybe they can use some of my stuff to pay for the debt THEY created...they are taking it anyway... I'll put the foreclosure sign up with the moving sale sign. They can't pay their bills so they put out one hand, ball the other into a fist and tell me to PAY UP or else...I'll Take the OR ELSE!!!!
Paradis February 22, 2013 at 10:30 PM
Thanks, Memere, Mew and Mae. I really think we should have a sign campaign. A MOVING SALE like Mae is planning is a great idea too.
Shawn February 23, 2013 at 11:20 PM
So unfortunate that the future of Woonsocket is being held hostage by options A-B (1-5). So many hard working residents will be forced from their homes because of the incompetence of our city officials. The tax burden is one again being laid upon those who already pay an extravagant amount to live in a city that offers them nothing. I for one recently bought my "American Dream" here in the city and in a matter of 3 years have seen my house depreciate by 80k+! I pay comparable taxes with friends and family from neighboring suburban towns and I can't even count on getting plowed out in a timely fashion. Now I read you want to increase my taxes with no guarantee any of yours plans are going to work, NO! Let the state come in and clean up your mess! I agree with the above resident and I will join the cause to place a sign on my property "abandoning soon". I will not allow my family to become "house broke" in city that is destined for bankruptcy and has no realistic plan to repair it!
Novan for Life February 25, 2013 at 04:27 AM
As far as a reciever would either review the current plans or he/she could force tax increases higher than whats being discussed. Central Falls taxes went up 29% under a reciever. So be careful what you wish for. Steve those ideas have been visited and consolidation has been done it is still not enough and firing people right now wont save any money because you would still have to pay there salaries plus pensions and healthcare costs no savings in there.
Novan for Life February 25, 2013 at 04:30 AM
you may want to check that math steve there isnt a dime of savings in any of those options. PS Back to the drawing board
Steve February 25, 2013 at 02:41 PM
Ok Novan, so we can't reduce the workforce, everything has been consolidated, taxes have gone up somewhere around 20 - 25 % over the past 5 years, and nothing left to do but raise taxes again, right? Oh well, that's it for me, I give up! Just bend over and take another one.... For all you folks living on the edge in Woonsocket, the drop box for the keys to your property is located on Main St. It's obvious there are no other solutions in this "City on the Move" that just moving out! Nice to know we still have options.........
MAE February 25, 2013 at 08:19 PM
I'm with you Steve, Nice to know where the drop box is...Although I was just going to go to the Council meeting and had them in...I guess it's better I claim bankruptcy than the city that made me bankrupt. I've been paying my bills with what I have but I guess it doesn't pay to do that. BTW, if anyone is interested: I have a cute house near the N. Smithfield line...might need some TLC since I can't afford the little extra to fix stupid stuff but in this market the price could be right. Just saying!
Jerilyn Delasanta Smith February 26, 2013 at 11:31 AM
It's sickening....shameful.
Novan for Life February 26, 2013 at 12:08 PM
well those increases make up for a former mayor and her pet (our current mayor) then CCP never raised taxes in 12 yrs and added more affordable housing than was necessary to begin with so what did you expect to happen the city to magically fix itself without help.

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