Excerpt from email sent March 21 to Mayor Scott Avedisian:
“I have been talking to your Tax Assessors office [Evelyn] this week concerning taxes I unfairly paid on my property. They have confirmed that I have been paying for a finished basement, which I DO NOT have.
“I am expecting to be reimbursed for all the unfair taxes I have been paying over the years. Not only did this cost me tax money, it also caused me to spend extra on my home insurance!
“I am sure you can agree that is not a nice thing to do to a Warwick resident for 27 years.
“Please let me know how much I will be reimbursed.”
The mayor did get back to the property owner, although as of this week they had not received a reimbursement. Nor is it likely that they will. The City Council may abate a portion of the tax bill if it gets that far, but the chances to appeal the assessment for the current taxes expired Oct. 15.
The exchange of emails between the property owner, who did not respond to an email from the Beacon as to whether they wanted to be identified for this story, ended up being sent to the Beacon and the Providence Journal when the writer accused the mayor of being “sarcastic” and threatening to take the complaint to Channel 12.
When the mayor said he was forwarding the initial email to city authorities, the writer fired back, “I can clearly see that no one has interest in resolving this issue. I am going to my lawyer today and you will hear further.”
The mayor replied if they were going to get an attorney, then he would turn the matter over to the city solicitor.
Apart from the exchange, what is the story if the tax assessor fails to accurately assess a property either in favor of the city or the taxpayer? Can the taxpayer be reimbursed for taxes paid, and conversely, could the city demand back taxes on a property it failed to properly assess in the first place?
Listening to Tax Assessor Evelyn Spagnolo and City Solicitor Peter Ruggiero, the deck is decidedly stacked in the city’s favor.
Spagnalo said the appeal for a rebate isn’t an issue either she or the mayor can entertain at this point. By state law, the appeal period for Dec. 31 valuations ends on Oct. 15 of the same year.
Now that the Dec. 31 valuations will be used as the basis for taxes in the coming fiscal year, Spagnolo says, “There isn’t any appeal.” In this particular case, Spagnolo inspected the property and, as Ruggiero points out, the council could abate taxes based on her recommendation.
However, if the city discovered it had failed to properly assess a property, it could seek taxes in arrears for up to three years. Ruggiero said that is rarely done.
In Spagnolo’s opinion, Internet access to assessments has greatly reduced the volume of errors, and hence appeals. Prior to the Internet, checking the basis of a property assessment required visiting City Hall and looking over the card that includes a drawing of the house, dimensions and number of rooms and bathrooms. Now all of that is online, and homeowners can quickly verify the information. Spagnolo said yesterday that her inspection of the property revealed that the homeowner had installed a new kitchen and bathroom without obtaining building permits that would have resulted in a change of property valuation. As a result of those findings, she said, the property assessment has been increased.
A full revaluation where field personnel visit each property, take measurements and verify data is done every nine years. Two statistical revaluations using comparative sales data are done in three-year intervals leading up to the full revaluation.
At the completion of the last statistical revaluation last spring, Spagnolo said there were about 400 appeals, or less than 1 percent of the more than 40,000 properties assessed. The city’s next full revaluation is slated to take effect as of Dec. 31, 2015. That may be altered, however, as legislators are considering revaluations every five, instead of every three, years.
“People look for fair assessments, and in some cases it isn’t fair,” she said. In cases where it isn’t fair and an appeal is made, assessments are changed. Taxpayers are required to pay taxes on the assessed value until it is amended at which time the abatement is applied to future payments.
“I know it sounds unfair,” Spagnolo said of inability of taxpayers to contest valuations once the appeal period ends, “but that’s the law.”