Donna and Rob Spencer went back to school Tuesday. They reported to Randall Holden School at 12:15 just as instructed.
They were anxious to learn how their home on Betsy Williams Drive, valued at $160,600 three years ago, could possibly be assessed at $205,100 today, an increase of $44,500, or 28 percent.
“I was in shock,” Rob said as he prepared to enter the school that closed last June and was reopened in December when a burst pipe forced the closure of St. Kevin School. St. Kevin has since reopened. Usually, hearings following a citywide revaluation are conducted in Council Chambers in City Hall. However, restoration work following a burst sprinkler is nearing completion and Randall Holden was available.
The Spencers have lived in their home for about 45 years. They want to stay but they are concerned the dramatic increase in assessment will translate into increased taxes although, at this point, the mayor has not finalized a budget for 2019-20 and until that process is completed the tax rate is unknown.
Donna, who is retired, worries. “I’m on a fixed income right now.”
She’s not alone.
Jay Buongiovanni of Riverview turned to Nextdoor, a social media platform to voice his concern.
“Waking up to the horrors of our revaluations of our properties doesn’t start our days the way we need them to start,” he writes in an April 3 post that went to 13 nearby neighborhoods, reaching 2,149 neighbors. He goes on to assure readers they are going to see an increase in their taxes.
“When our property value is INCREASED by 40% or more even if tax formula remains the same and isn’t increased we are PAYING OUR TAXES ON AN INFLATED VALUE AND THEREIN LIES OUR INCREASES!!! From this day forward we will all pay tax increases on higher valued property,” he asserts.
Buongiovanni has formed the Warwick Tax Crisis Committee and, using the Nextdoor platform, is inviting people to a meeting Wednesday, April 17 from 5 to 8:30 p.m. at the Warwick Public Library.
A number of homeowners responded to Buongiovanni’s post likewise voicing their apprehension over increased assessments and what that might mean to taxes.
In a telephone interview yesterday Buongiovanni, who described himself as a facilitator, said, “I took the bull by the horns basically.” He described next Wednesday’s meeting as a “brainstorming session” and an opportunity for the group to develop a mission statement as well as hear former Councilman Robert Cushman talk about the city’s current fiscal situation and the long-range implications of pension and other post employment benefits (OPEB) costs.
“There are massive consequences we’re going to face,” he said, citing unfunded pension and OPEB costs not to mention a deficit in the current budget and demands on next year’s budget.
“What is life going to be like?” he questioned.
Buongiovanni sees the group as working to help the administration address the city’s fiscal challenges and providing taxpayers information on the issue.
“We want to give support instead of being obstructionists,” he said.
There appears to be no set percentage increase in assessment values resulting from the revaluation.
A random review of property assessments using the city’s website conducted by the Beacon found a few property values declined but most increasing and some by as much as 39 percent. The most dramatic increases were seen in homes valued at less than $200,000 three years ago. Many of those houses are now assessed in the low or mid-$200,000 range.
Mayor Solomon’s property on Warwick Neck went down in value, from $535,600 in 2016 to $497,200 in 2019. However, so did other houses on that same stretch of waterfront properties along Crawford Avenue. Meanwhile, multiple houses not on the water on the even-numbered side of Crawford Avenue saw significant increases in the $40,000 range.
What the revaluation reflects in the opinion of Dean deTonnancourt, president of the Rhode Island Realtors Association, is the state’s strong seller’s market has driven prices up and depleted inventory of lower priced and what are considered “starter homes.”
Unlike a full revaluation, which by state law is required every nine years, the recently completed statistical revaluation did not involve a visit to each of the city’s 41,000 properties. Rather, using recent sales on comparable homes and neighborhoods, Vision Government Solutions, which completed the revaluation, arrived at the current assessment. In the case of Warwick, more homes sold in the range of $200,000 to $300,000 in the past three years than any other price group. That gave Vision more sales to base its valuations than, say, homes selling for $500,000.
In a letter accompanying notice of assessments, city Tax Assessor Neal Dupuis cautions property owners not to attempt to calculate their tax bills.
“The intent of a revaluation is not to raise taxes, but to provide updated information relative to the value of your property,” reads the letter.
Dupuis said Tuesday that he projected three to five percent of the city’s 41,000 property owners would request a hearing with Vision to review their assessments. As of this time, he said about two percent of property owners have scheduled appointments. The deadline for scheduling an appointment is April 16. The number to call is 888-844-4300.
Dupuis had not heard of the Warwick Tax Crisis Committee or knew of the April 17 meeting. If welcome, he offered to attend and answer questions.
And how did the Spencers make out?
“They might come out and look the house over,” Rob reported Wednesday.
Donna said Vision provided some answers as to why their home is valued at $7,000 more than their neighbor’s that is identical. She said their property is 200 feet larger and she was told homes in her neighborhood were selling for $200,000 and more.
“I don’t see that that has anything to do with my assessment,” she said.
There was more to the story. During the microburst storm four years ago, a tree fell on the roof of the house and the garage. After battling with the insurance company, the garage roof was repaired and the home roof replaced. The new roof enhanced the value of the house.
Donna feels they are now being penalized for the upkeep of their property. But for the Spencers the bigger issue is Warwick taxes and the cost of schools and the Fire Department.
“If it keeps going up,” she said of taxes, “you’re forcing me out of here.”
She points to the demand to fix schools that have fallen into disrepair, higher teacher salaries and firefighter overtime and pension costs. To address those problems, she fears a dramatic increase in taxes.
“You’re going to fix the problem by forcing us out of here,” she said.