NORTH SMITHFIELD/BURRILLVILLE – With the state budget finally passed this month, municipalities across Rhode Island are now sending residents motor vehicle tax bills that feature an abbreviated timeframe for payback.
In North Smithfield, Town Administrator Paul Zwolenski issued an executive order to address the issue last week, with mandated due dates on February 15, March 15, May 15 and June 15. The administrator estimated that residents should be receiving the bills within the next two weeks.
The town of Burrillville, meanwhile, sent out estimated motor vehicle tax bills on Monday, Dec. 14, and has since announced that residents can consider those bills finalized. The first quarter payment in Burrillville is due between January 5 and January 25, with interest to be assessed on January 26.
The shortened payback period is the result of an unusual budget season that saw state legislative meetings halted due to the pandemic. Unclear on how legislators would meet statewide budget shortfalls caused by COVID-19, some towns set aside money to fund potential school deficits, and delayed mailing the motor vehicle bills, which are dependent on ongoing reimbursements from the state phaseout.
Zwolenski noted that he had hoped to make the vehicles tax payments due every other month, but that would have required passage of a state budget in November. The new budget season begins in June, and the administrator said he worries that taxpayers already suffering from a loss of income could fall behind.
“Unfortunately, the state didn’t approve of this until December,” Zwolenski said. “Residents were made aware that vehicle excise taxes were going to be delayed, but I’m still concerned. Hopefully people set aside money.”
A notice sent out by Burrillville Deputy Tax Collector Diane Vadenais notes that motor vehicle taxes not paid by the adjusted quarterly due dates will be subject to a 12 percent penalty per annum.
“Failure to receive a tax bill does not excuse anyone from paying taxes and any related interest,” Vadenais noted. “We thank you for your patience during these difficult times.”
North Smithfield Finance Director Cynthia DeJesus noted that vehicle taxes are determined by several elements in a seven-year phase out plan, using retail value as reported by the National Automobile Dealers Association.
“If you look at the law, it’s actually pretty complicated,” DeJesus said.
Passage of the state budget has allayed some concerns regarding the funding of northern Rhode Island schools, thanks to a fiscal plan signed by Gov. Gina Raimondo on Monday, Dec. 21 that includes the expected increases in aid for education.
“We were fully funded for the schools, and that’s something we were really concerned with,” Zwolenski said.
As a result, town officials in some communities now have a bit of wiggle room to potentially fund items cut from initial municipal budgets passed earlier this year.
The North Smithfield Town Council is expected to revisit the budget at an upcoming meeting and decide which items to fund after putting some $940,000 in a contingency account for schools cutting from line items including capital funds, OPEB contributions and the DPW allocation.
“I know President Beauregard is really enthusiast about bringing this forward,” Zwolenski said of the available funding. “In my opinion, the money should go back to those departments.”
Both towns, meanwhile recommend that vehicle tax bills be paid by mail, dropbox or the online systems, as town offices continue to offer only limited in-person traffic.
Questions for the Burrillville Tax Assessor, including inquiries from residents who haven’t received bills, should be directed to (401) 568-4300 Ext 181. Appeals of motor vehicle assessments must be made in writing within 45 days from the mail out date.
North Smithfield residents can call town offices at (401) 767-2200 ext. 301 and will be directed to the correct department.
Town tax offices can also set up payment agreements or automatic payment deductions.
In both towns, it’s an unusual process resulting in rushed action in an unprecedented year.
“It’s going to be sooner rather than later,” Zwolenski said of North Smithfield’s mail out. “We want people to be aware that they’re coming.”