Town gains local authority over historic preservation projects; Tax credits to be made available

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NORTH SMITHFIELD – The North Smithfield Historic District Commission will have the authority to grant tax relief to residents who maintain or rehabilitate historic homes in town, thanks to a change in state law that was also approved locally this week by members of the Town Council.

While details of the program are still in the making, homeowners who spend a minimum of $7,500 on approved improvements to North Smithfield’s historic structures will now qualify for a 20 percent tax credit for up to five years.

The initiative to gain local authority over the tax relief program began last year, when members of the previous Town Council voted to petition the Rhode Island General Assembly for the change. Previously, the Rhode Island Historic Preservation & Heritage Commission had jurisdiction over such projects – and any accompanying tax breaks.

Rep. Brian Newberry sponsored legislation on behalf of the town last January, and the bill was signed into law by the Gov. Dan McKee in July.

“It was approved, and now it’s coming back before the council for your approval,” explained Jeffrey Harris, chairman of NSHDC, at a public hearing on the change at the council’s meeting on Monday, Nov 15.

“One of the biggest changes is, instead of having the Rhode Island Historic Preservation & Heritage Commission be the authority having jurisdiction, it has moved to the local level as the North Smithfield Historic District Commission,” Harris said.

“It’s exactly what we asked for,” noted Town Councilor Paul Vadenais.

Monday’s vote amended section 6 of the town’s Code of Ordinances on finance and taxation. The program will apply to homes listed in the state register of historic places, located in a district listed in the state register, listed in a town historic district, or designated locally as historically significant. Owners of historic properties will apply to the town’s tax assessor for relief upon completion of the work, and the assessor will notify the NSHDC, which will have the authority to inspect the project and make a recommendation.

“The North Smithfield Town Council finds and declares that preservation of Rhode Island’s historic residences enhances an understanding of the state and town’s heritage, improves property values, fosters civic beauty, and promotes public education, pleasure, and welfare,” the law states. “The purpose of this ordinance is to allow the town to provide property tax relief to mitigate against the increased assessment of historic houses when they undergo substantial maintenance or rehabilitation.”

Harris said he has been meeting with the town assessor to iron out final details of the plan.

Councilors unanimously approved the change.

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