NORTH SMITHFIELD – With some confusion among residents remaining over delays in receiving both property and vehicle tax bills, the Town Council will consider a putting off the due date of the second quarter payments this week.
The town sent out the 2021 property bills the second week in August, putting the arrival date more than a month later than in past years. The delay was the result of a budget process in which shutdowns to curb the spread of COVID-19 have led to state revenue shortfalls, and a hold off by the Rhode Island legislature in passing its fiscal plan.
Towns rely on state aid for revenue, and with that allocation unknown, municipal budgets in communities across Rhode Island have amounted to something of a guessing game.
In North Smithfield, Town Administrator Gary Ezovski said that some $6 million in revenue still remains uncertain.
“It is a mess that we didn’t create, but whose impact to every taxpayer we have tried to limit,” Ezovski noted this week. “The bottom line has been targeting ability to send out bills, which meet your service needs as approved by the council, just once, with no need for revision at any time during the year.”
North Smithfield’s budget, passed in June, includes a $1 million contingency – funding set aside to be used to finance school operations if state aid fails to come through.
For residents, meanwhile, first quarter bills to the town are due on Tuesday, Sept. 15.
Rhode Island’s auto tax phase out program has also created an issue for municipalities as the lack of statewide action has left the local burden unclear, and communities have held off bills in response.
“Last year auto tax revenue was split at approximately $2.8 million town and $1.6 million state,” Ezovski noted in his weekly newsletter. “If the phase out plan continues, the local share – your bill – will be smaller and the state side higher.”
The administrator recommended that taxpayers use prior year bills as a tool for financial planning.
The town’s handling of the budget process has been subject to some criticism. Resident Michael Clifford noted that most other Rhode Island communities sent the bills out on time.
“Back to back quarterly tax payments, and inadequate tax escrows, will wreak havoc on some family budgets,” Clifford noted on social media.
Currently, second quarter payments are due on Thursday, Oct. 15, but Ezovski noted that the issue will be taken up this week by the Town Council for potential delay.
“There is ability to adjust that by a couple of weeks perhaps without creating more of the same issue between the second and third quarter dates and the holiday period,” Ezovski said.
The delay is an agenda item for a Town Council at a special meeting scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 9.
“If it is determined that a change should be made, we will make that known as soon as possible,” Ezovski noted.