WOONSOCKET – It’s coming up on two years since the city completed its 2017 property revaluation, and the controversial undertaking is still getting mentions around the city, most recently in discussion of an ordinance that seeks to clarify the appeals process for taxpayers.
On Monday, the City Council approved for the second time an ordinance aimed at making the appeals process more transparent for taxpayers. In addition to requiring notification when a property switches from tax-exempt to taxable status, the new law requires the tax assessor to notify residents in writing when their appeals are approved or denied.
It may sound simple, but according to Councilor John Ward, the city’s tax policy is anything but. The topic came up during a forum at the Elks Club last week sponsored by Albert Brien, the former mayoral challenger who made criticism of the 2017 revaluation a centerpiece of his 2018 mayoral campaign. The forum, billed as a free seminar for those interested in appealing their property taxes, included a presentation by attorney Michael Kelly on the process.
As Kelly explained during the forum, the city’s tax appeal process follows several steps, beginning with the arrival of tax bills in mid-July. Property owners have 90 days after the due date of their first tax payment to file an appeal with the local assessor’s office. After that, the city tax assessor has 45 days to review the appeal and notify the taxpayer of a decision. If they’re still not satisfied, the property owner then has 30 days to file the appeal to the local Board of Assessment Review.
However, according to Ward, the city’s tax assessor office often takes advantage of a loophole in state tax law that allows the assessor to decline to issue any response to the initial appeal. In that case, the property owner’s dealings with the assessor’s office are considered closed after 45 days, automatically triggering a countdown to the deadline for the next stage of appeal. For those not extensively familiar with state tax law, he argued, the policy gives no notification to the taxpayer that their time for appeal is running out.
“It leaves it to the taxpayer to understand the law well enough that they know what their rights are without having been given any notice,” he said.
Audience members at last week’s forum also complained of a lack of notification during the revaluation process, claiming they had no opportunity to have the interior of their homes inspected as required during a citywide revaluation.
Elyse Pare, the former city tax assessor who began a new position with the city of Providence on Monday, could not be reached for comment. But Richard Nagle, president of Northeast Revaluation Group, attended the forum and defended the company’s handling of the 2017 revaluation. In an interview with The Valley Breeze, he stated company representatives knocked on the doors of all homes and sent follow-up letters to more than 6,000 homeowners inviting them to schedule interior inspections.
“There’s about 11,000 properties there. I’m not sure we can guarantee the mail, but I have a list of everybody we sent it to,” he said.
Ward, describing the new policy, explained the city tax assessor will now be required to respond to all appeals with information about the next stage in the process even if he or she chooses not to issue a decision on the appeal.
“Even if the assessor chooses to not make a formal decision, that assessor will be required within 45 days to, in writing, notify the person making the appeal whether they have made a decision on the appeal or even if they have not, that they have not made a decision, and here are your rights going forward,” he said.
The new policy passed the council by a 7-0 vote on Monday and is expected to take effect next week.