When Taxes “Only” Go Up, but Property Values “Only” Go Down

After the Tiverton Budget Committee put forward its recommendation for a 0.5% increase in local taxes, which was significantly less than the Town Council and School Committee wanted, Town Council Member John Edwards the Fifth (son of state Representative John Edwards the Fourth) complained that it would “only” save about $40 per year on the median (or middle-valued) house.

My initial reaction to such statements has always been to wonder what people like Edwards think families ought to give up.  If you haven’t had a raise in the past year, $40 means something you can’t pay for, because you can’t go to the town government and say that your payment is “only” going to be $40 short.

My second thought is that “only” this and “only” that adds up.  The town government pushed property taxes through the roof in the last decade, and when they never, ever reduce taxes, the cost just keeps climbing.

Let’s look at that median house.  The docket for the financial town referendum (FTR) uses a house valued at $260,000 as an example.  According to the tax rolls, 37 Tiverton taxpayers have houses valued between $259,000 to $261,000.  This year, those residents are paying an average of $4,975 in property taxes (before exemptions).

In 2009, which is the first year for which the town has tax rolls that are easy to search on the computer, those same households paid $4,231, and the average value of their homes was $294,843.  In other words, each family is now paying $744 more in taxes, even though each house is worth about $35,000 less.

Of course, that doesn’t tell the whole story because for the past three years, voters have used the FTR to keep their taxes from increasing more than 0.9%.  From 2009 to 2013, before the first zero-point-something FTR, those 37 taxpayers lost 14% of the value of their homes, but their actual tax payments went up 16%.  Does that seem fair?  Would Mr. Edwards tell his neighbors, “Hey, don’t worry!  We ‘only’ added $166 to your tax bill every single year, and you ‘only’ lost $11,563 of your house’s value each year”?

It’s going to take a long time to get those increases down to where it’s fair to use the word “only,” and people who always want more will keep fighting the limits and trying to make it harder for you to have a say.  That’s why it’s important for you to vote in the FTR this Saturday at the high school and to support candidates for the upcoming Charter Review Commission who will protect the FTR.

Keep an eye out for statements from the Tiverton Taxpayers Association (TTA), which will be working to make the choices clear.

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Justin KatzJustin Katz is a writer and researcher focusing on Rhode Island policy and politics. For more about Justin, see our About page. justin@justinkatz.com (401) 835-7156.

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