NORTH SMITHFIELD – The North Smithfield Town Council completed the town’s annual budget process on Thursday, July 7, passing new exemptions for veterans of war, and lowering rates to account for recent increases to property valuations.
Tax Assessor Jennifer St. George said that with the changes, the average single-family home in town is now valued at $370,000, and would see a tax bill increase of $115 for the year.
The exemptions, meanwhile, passed unanimously this week following a lengthy process that included approval by the General Assembly, provide a $350 tax credit, which veterans of a war must apply for by December 31 each year. Widows of war veterans can receive a $200 credit, and the exemption is also $350 for totally disabled war veterans and Gold Star parents.
Veterans who qualify but are not homeowners are still entitled to the tax break if they live in specialized housing.
“If you don’t have something to credit it against it, you use it or lose it on an annual basis,” explained Town Solicitor David Igliozzi.
Resident Michael Clifford, who recently declared candidacy for the council in the upcoming election, took issue with initiative, started last November by Town Administrator Paul Zwolenski.
“It needs to start being needs-based,” Clifford said Thursday during a second reading of the proposal. “Everybody is suffering. Nobody in this town is going to be in an easy position to turn up the heat this winter. It should go to the veterans who truly truly need it.”
“I think it’s insulting to the elderly people in this town who are living on fixed incomes,” Clifford added.
But Farrell McMillan, commander of Leclair Kozlik Logan Bassett Post 6342, applauded both Zwolenski and the council for their efforts.
“I think it’s the right thing to do,” McMillan said.
Also speaking on behalf of the exemption was veteran Edward Viveiros, who said it would be an, “insult to parse by income,” noting that no other town in the state bases such tax breaks on need.
“Some men and women who served have the added burden of deep emotional and physical scars that they carry with them to this day,” Viveiros said. “For some of us, it’s going to allow us to keep the heat on.”
Town Council President John Beauregard said that the exemption was never meant to be needs-based.
“I think it’s a great idea, and I’m proud to support it,” Beauregard said. “It’s a small token of our appreciation.”
Councilor Paul Vadenais agreed that the exemption should not be dependent on income.
“This shouldn’t be need-based. It was’t need-based when they were drafted or they signed up,” Vadenais said. “They defended the country.”
“Some did not come back,” added Councilor Clarie O’Hara. “I won’t change my mind on this. I think it’s a deserved thing. I know many that were activated from this town. I think the way that it’s written is just.”
Zwolenski, who has been recovering from COVID-19 and was not at the Thursday meeting, later gave credit to St. George for her work in drafting the proposal.
Councilors also gave a stamp of approval to new tax rates for the year, decreasing the residential burden by 14.88 percent; commercial by 2.56 percent; and tangible by 2.44 percent. The board approved a budget last month that increased spending by roughly $1 million over the previous cycle, but revaluations finalized in December saw homes values increase 22 percent on average.
Clifford questioned the process used to advertises the changes, noting that an ad published in June stated that all three categories of taxpayers would see roughly the same decrease of 9.6 percent. The rates, published prior to the budget vote, were said to be a, “placeholder;” draft numbers to meet the state advertising requirement before a fiscal plan was finalized.
“How can I speak on the rates at a public hearing when I don’t know what they are?” Clifford asked. “That legal advertisement was supposed to notify me, and it didn’t.”
Beauregard said any questions on process would fall to the solicitor.
“If he’s satisfied, then I’m satisfied,” Beauregard said.
“The process that was followed has been certified correct by the Department of Revenue,” Igliozzi responded.
Finance Director Cynthia DeJesus noted that the new proposed rates, of 13.91 for residential property; 18.94 for commercial; and 42.62 for tangible, maintain ratios between the three categories of taxpayers, as also governed by state law.
“We’ve done so much research to come up with these percentages,” DeJesus said, noting that commercial property owners also saw a seven percent increase on average in their property values last year.
“I just didn’t think it would be fair not to give them some kind of a break too,” DeJesus said. “We need businesses here.”