Sunday, October 31, 2010


Do we spend too much locally? You betcha.
Should we spend less? Naturally.
Property taxes will be ok now, right? Nope. Look here

Monday, October 25, 2010

Who is US?

The laws that govern us reflect our notion of "US".
Are we a mass of people, a "society"?
Or are we millions of individuals?
Our political parties offer us a choice.
But we are both, and our laws need to reflect that fact.
It's not easy.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

"It's the Economy Stupid"

When Bill Clinton ran for president his campaign strategist, James Carville, made that phrase famous.

Today everyone complains about property taxes and how high they are. And they are indeed high.

All our energy is spent trying to "reform" property taxes with all manner of gimmicks, circuit breakers, exemptions, levy limits. The fact is that what we are really doing is trying to fix spending using our property taxes as the tool. A worthy goal but it doesn't truly re-form Property Taxes.

Even if successful we will have failed most property owners because, with all due apologies to President Clinton, "It's the Revaluation, Stupid".

Revaluations are required to assure that buyers pay fair taxes on property they buy. It's fair for new buyers and should be done at least annually. (Triennially is better than every ten years but it's still not enough).

For existing owners however, revaluation means that thousands of homeowners could get tax increases even if spending is lower than the prior year. This is gross injustice to all existing owners and is simply unreasonable.

We can solve this apparent dilemma but it requires a willingness to revisit and re-think some antiquated ideas.

Please look at this
5 minute video and see if you don't agree.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

"Too Tired to Vote?"

It's election time and we are about choose the people that will govern us until the next election. It is both a privilege (one that too few people around the world have) as well as a responsibility.

Each check we make on the ballot deserves careful consideration and it's easy to do; the pens and markers don't weigh twenty pounds. Choosing the "master lever" implies that it is just too much work to mark each candidate. Our founding fathers would be turning in their graves if they knew, and I'd be ashamed to admit using it.

I'd go so far as to say it's this type of mindlessness or laziness that is responsible for the mess in which we find ourselves, both locally and nationally. We have only ourselves to blame.

So now we hear "kick the bums out". It's surely tempting and understandable, but it is just as wrong headed as that master lever. Being a newcomer or "outsider" is no assurance of integrity and competence, just as being an experienced politician is not an assurance of unethical behavior or incompetence.

Are all members of one party good or evil? Are all members of any group the same? Would my only qualification for a friend be that he or she is a member of a particular group? Heaven help us if so.

We have a duty to ourselves and our country to think about each candidate and vote accordingly.

Friday, October 1, 2010

When will we get it?

Rhode Islanders pay more in property taxes than 45 other states, according to a recent article in the Providence Business News. It is no small wonder then, that reducing spending is on everyone's to-do list.

But there is another issue than no one on Smith Hill seems willing to take seriously, an issue that has a much more profound effect on our property taxes - revaluations.

Let me say at the outset that we need to revalue regularly. In fact we should revalue every year instead of every three years, as we do now. Revaluation is the only way we can assure that when someone buys a $1 million dollar property they pay a fair tax on a $1 million dollar property.

But the impact on existing owners is anything but fair. To illustrate, let's imagine that we froze the tax levy in North Kingstown, so that in 2004 it was the same as it was in 2003. Rational people might expect that no one would pay any more in taxes. In fact, if it were 2003 instead of 2004, no one would have paid more in taxes.

But there was a scheduled revaluation in 2003 for the 2004 fiscal year. The result was that in 2004, 49% of the taxpayers would have received a tax increase averaging 23%! The total additional taxes paid by nearly half the property owners would have been just under $2.4 million dollars.

Since our scenario froze the tax levy, no additional money was received by the town. The $2.4 million merely offset the tax reduction of the other 51%. Does this seem fair to anyone? Does it seem reasonable to increase taxes for some people solely to lower other people's taxes? But that's what revaluations do.

It gets worse. The average property value of the people got the increase was $154,000. The average property value of those whose taxes fell was $228,000. People owning more modest homes paid millions to people with more valuable homes. What's wrong with us that we allow this to happen, over and over?

I performed this same revaluation scenario for North Kingstown's 2007 and 2010 fiscal years, Barrington's 2009 fiscal year, West Warwick's 2003 fiscal year, and Cranston's 2006 fiscal year with eerily similar results.

To repeat; towns can freeze budgets and hold levy limits to a zero percent increase and still, thousands upon thousands of tax payers would get onerous tax increases for no rational reason, simply because of a reassessment of property value.

So we face a dilemma; how can we tax existing owners fairly and, at the same time, tax new buyers fairly on the values of their purchases?

There is a way outlined on the Rhode Island Gets Honorable Taxation website. We can tax both existing owners AND new buyers fairly and reasonably, every year, fund levies as we do now, and eliminate assessment appeals for existing owners.

Only when we get this fixed can we expect real results from any tax decreases. Or maybe we just don't care care?