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Is Barrington the Worst of the Worst?

Is Barrington one of the most heavily property taxed towns in Rhode Island and, perhaps, in all of America when measured on a per capita basis?

An October, 2011 report from the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council (RIPEC) looks at "How Rhode Island Compares" with other states as to total taxes paid on a per capita basis. This report finds that, “In general, property taxes represent the largest share of tax collections, accounting for 33.4 percent of all FY 2009 taxes across the country. In Rhode Island, the property tax accounted for 44.6 percent of total collections in FY 2009, accounting for an 11.3 percent greater share of taxes than the national average”.

At $2,020, Rhode Island had the 7th highest property tax per capita in the country during FY 2009. The national average was $1,393. Only New Jersey, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Wyoming, New York and Vermont ranked higher than RI.

Two months after this RIPEC report, GoLocal issued an analysis of per capita property tax burdens at the Rhode Island municipal level. This GoLocal report cited Barrington's per capita property tax burden at $3,382 - the third highest in the state. Only New Shoreham and Jamestown were higher. 

New Shoreham and Jamestown's rankings are skewed because many "out-of-state-summer-residents" are not counted in the full census data for these towns. So is Barrington the "worst of the worst" when it comes to a per capita property tax burden in Rhode Island? And just how much worse will this burden get? The answer may lie in how the next town council handles the affordable housing issue.

It has been suggested that certain existing Barrington property owners be allowed to change their property deeds to "affordable" deeds as one solution to meet the 10% affordable housing mandate. This would result in a reduction of their property tax payments since affordable property is assessed differently. But the resulting tax shortfall would then have to be made up by those who aren't allowed to convert to “affordable” deed status. 

There is also the issue of the growth of new housing that will result from the town's current development ordinance requiring that 10% of all Barrington's housing be eligible to be classified as "deed restricted". Mathematically, to meet that mandated 10% crossover point could require the build-out of up to 4000 additional homes in Barrington since all new development must now follow a minimum "2 affordable homes for every 10 new homes" ordinance rule. 

Worse still is that under current town ordinances, all new housing must be architecturally similar in size and style to any “affordable” homes in any new development. This, again, passes additional burdens to existing residents because all new housing is required by town ordinance to be at lesser "affordable” standards – meaning that those properties will necessarily carry a lesser share of the tax burden.

The end result? Property tax hikes for most existing Barrington property owners.

In March 2011, The Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation hosted a community outreach forum. Governor Lincoln Chafee told the audience, "The greatest inhibitor to economic growth is high property taxes. . .our goal here is to do what we can to help out the property tax”.

Considering that Barrington may already be "the worst of the worst" on a per capita property tax basis, it seems time for Barrington property owners to mandate change.  The first, and most important step in this process will be on November 6th when each of us enters the voting booth.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Manifold Witness October 17, 2012 at 02:56 PM
Questions, questions… The Barrington Housing Board of Trustees has certain duties, including, “The Board of Trustees shall establish bylaws for the conduct of business in accordance with the Town Ordinances”. How will this board ensure compliance with the requirement that “all new housing must be architecturally similar in size and style to any ‘affordable’ homes in any new development”? http://www.ci.barrington.ri.us/housingcomm.php Given the faulty, exclusive manner in which Barrington defines and counts “affordable” properties, and the fact that a property that may be counted as “affordable” at one point in time can convert and drop out of the count (like with one recent example), Barrington’s “affordable” formula results in an unattainable goal. June Speakman & Kate Weymouth are the “council liaisons” to the Housing Board. What have the council liaisons to say about these problems? What is their plan if they are re-elected? Thanks for this blog, Gary. Without this, our town government would not have realized that they would have achieved full “build out” long before they’ll ever meet their unattainable goal.
Gary Morse October 17, 2012 at 03:59 PM
Your questions are legitimate on the Housing Board Manifold. In the July 30, 2012 Town Council meeting, both Councilor Kate Weymouth, and town attorney Nancy Letendre, argued that affordable housing could not be sold with removal of the affordable deed restriction, since, as they implied, "there are monitoring agencies that watch over this". However, one recent sale at 14 Western Avenue shows our leadership and legal counsel may be wrong. Regarding 14 Western Ave, this 99 year deed restricted home was recently sold with an approximate 80% markup from the original purchase price in 2001 (note - this was an affordable 99 year lease). More concerning was that the Housing Board wasn't even aware of this sale, nor of the problem that the new deed does not disclose the affordable deed restriction compliance requirements by the new owner. It is also unusual that this exchange involved a prior employee of East Bay Community Development Corporation. EBCDC is/was the monitoring agency for this property. As far as who watches over the "size and style" town ordinance requirements, there remains confusion over who does that. The town may be setting itself up for another lawsuit if it does not put in place procedures, which don't appear to exist today. Keep in mind, we lost the Sweetbriar lawsuit in part because we didn't have written standards back then either.
Seth Milman October 18, 2012 at 01:37 PM
The Planning Board, not the Housing Bd. of TTEEs, works with developers with regard to the architectural ordinances. The Housing Bd. of TTEEs is an advisory board and does not have authority to put requirements on development applications. I do not think it is accurate to say that the architectural ordinance and low income housing requirements result in new developments being built at a lower architectural standard. At least, I have not seen this occur.
Lorraine F October 18, 2012 at 02:56 PM
So Question 7 on the November ballot says taxpayers should approve $25 million to support more affordable housing that local taxpayers will then have to subsidize the property taxes on? And this is to plow under what limited open space remains in RI. The money should be earmarked for rehabilitation only to lessen the environmental impact. But that might get in the way of the windfall profits for the developers and lawyers who are feeding off of this.
Gary Morse October 18, 2012 at 08:25 PM
Seth, That sounds good on paper, but there are several developments in town (e.g. Bluemead) where lots are being sold, not homes already built.. Bluemead has no "developer" to force ordinance requirements on. A person could buy a lot, and 15 years from now, put up a house. There is no written procedure at the moment defining who, 15 years from now, will oversee and enforce Section 185-185(c) which is the style and size ordinance. It doesn't appear that either the Planning Board or the Housing Board have the authority of enforcement of a local ordinance. It might be the Town Manager, but that's questionable if it is not written down as a formal procedure. We lost the Sweetbriar lawsuit in part because Barrington hadn't properly documented affordable policies. This is another lawsuit against the town waiting to happen, and soon. I'm surprised our Town Planner hasn't addressed this.
Manifold Witness October 18, 2012 at 09:50 PM
Housing Trustees have duties (see above) & want more authority. See: http://barrington.patch.com/articles/affordable-housing-assailed-supported http://barrington.patch.com/articles/housing-board-seeks-more-power Walker Farm homes appear consistent with each other but lower architectural standards appear employed vis-à-vis other homes in town. Cost to taxpayers for storm water drainage basin town accepted? Bluemead Farm -it seems Planning Board intends to work with “the developer” re subdivision plan. But lots to be sold as lots after compliance with the requirement that the affordable units be built at the time of/before the other units? Will there be restrictive covenants to ensure that all of the units actually end up being comparable to one another? Another result of the “affordable” system in place in Barrington? Barrington may already be fully “build out” as to “high-end” developments because the town might never meet the faulty “affordable” requirements. From Town Manager Report 7/30/12 Re: Town Council Agenda Item 16 Housing Trust request for ordinance requiring Town to get input from Housing Trust as to construction of all affordable housing projects. Or add the requirement to admin checklist- Phil Hervey would circulate proposal to Housing Trust. From Council Minutes 7/30/12-”Mrs. Letendre can...make a recommendation...in the form of an ordinance”...”Mr. DeAngelis will instruct the Planner to handle this administratively.”
Lorraine F October 18, 2012 at 10:58 PM
Seth, Are you really serious? The only project to date is Walker Farm. If you're trying to convince us that Walker Farm is architecturally a quaint and diverse New England street, you need to actually drive through the area to get a glimpse. What are you talking about?
Joel Hellmann October 19, 2012 at 01:50 PM
While I agree with Gary that the affordable housing rules are wrong and must be changed, I question the title of "the worst of the worst". Our taxes are high and I would argue too high, and yet people still want to move here in larger numbers than other towns. Free market tells us that when something costs too much people stop buying. The people who move here must feel they are getting value for the high taxes they are paying. It can be much much better. But I would not be happy to pay less and get much less.
Seth Milman October 19, 2012 at 07:11 PM
I have not yet seen Walker Farm Lane. That was developed before I moved back to Barrington. I can't comment on Bluemead, but I don't think Gary Morse's comments are accurate on the issue.
Gary Morse October 19, 2012 at 08:01 PM
Joel, I trust you understand that while technically correct, the headline had more to do with getting peoples attention. Whether rightly or wrongly deserved, the issue on the table is important enough. According to the census data, 30% of the households in town lack the financial means to keep up with the impending property tax increases. This is not a rich town throughout. This is about protecting their interests, along with halting the environmental insanity of paving over the little remaining open space we have in the name of an affordable policy that is now obsolete.
Gary Morse October 20, 2012 at 12:58 AM
Seth, Could you please provide some facts as to exactly where I'm wrong? It might help if you could be specific. Are you just speculating that I'm wrong, but have nothing to go on?
Manifold Witness October 20, 2012 at 01:00 PM
The law. The rule. With subtle jewel of argument, we see it can be molded ‘round a cause, a case, a cur, the facets formed, unfolded.... Hey, Seth - what, exactly, do you think is inaccurate about Gary's comments? (You're a lawyer on the Planning Board, right?)
Seth Milman October 20, 2012 at 02:39 PM
I do not believe Gary is accurate when he says that the Planning Board does not have authority to enforce town ordinances. Technically, the Planning Board is not a legal enforcement body. So it's true that, if a particular development is not required to come before the board, then the board can't do anything. However, the Planning Board does approve and deny applications for development and often adds stipulations to these applications, many of which are related to architectural requirements. So, although the Housing Bd. of TTEEs does not currently have the authority to add such requirements, the Planning Board does in many cases. If there is a development before the board that you are concerned about, please make your concerns known. That's exactly why we have the planning board and it makes our job easier when we have a better understanding of these concerns. You can do this by writing a letter or coming to one of the meetings - especially when there is an open forum. The schedules and agendas are available on the town's website. The Planning Board meets on the first Tuesday of every month.
Seth Milman October 20, 2012 at 02:39 PM
See above.
Joel Hellmann October 20, 2012 at 02:53 PM
Gary All your points are well taken, but at least we get something for what we pay for and in other towns they get very little of value. It doesn't mean that we all should not work to reduce town expences when possible
Gary Morse October 21, 2012 at 10:28 AM
Seth Milman sits on the Barrington Planning Board and his comments should be taken seriously. The above comment "I don't think Gary Morse's comments are accurate on the issue." needs some specificity as to where exactly I am wrong. If Mr Milman, or any Council member, or Planning Board Member, or Housing Board member, think I'm wrong on any issue, here is the opportunity to challenge it publicly. Residents should be concerned with how Barrington is now being forced by local town ordinance to build out Barrington with low cost high density housing. The greatest impact will be property tax increase on existing residents least able to afford the increase given this has a regressive impact, There is also the environmental damage to the limited open space we have left simply to implement a "now obsolete" affordable policy. I think town officials owe residents a public response with some specificity.
Seth Milman October 21, 2012 at 06:47 PM
Hi Gary, The only part of your post that I was commenting on in terms of what is accurate is how you said that there is no way to put requirements, such as architectural requirements, onto developers. Certainly the Housing board of ttees can't do this. But In many cases, if the developer comes before the planning board, the board can, in some cases, put such requirements on the developer as a condition of plan approval. So, if you have a specific request or concern regarding a development that is before the planning board, please come to the planning board meetings and make it known. I've been on the board for almost a year and, in my experience, the board always tries to incorporate specific requests into the approved plan. However, the requests or concerns really need to be specific. A broad request such as, "please make sure the development meets architectural standards" or "make sure the development fits into the surrounding neighborhood" probably will not get too much traction because, first this is always one of the primary concerns of the board, and second because it doesn't spell out the standards that you'd like to see.
Gary Morse October 21, 2012 at 08:28 PM
Seth, Your "see above" response still raises questions. For example, it appears the Planning Board has not implemented the Lavin's Marina project according to the town ordinance requirements, and instead, it appears the ordinance was bent for this development. In the "Conditions of Approval", the Planning Board allowed the developer to obtain "certificates of occupancy for...five of the eight market-rate houses...prior to certificates of occupancy for both low-moderate income housing units." http://sos.ri.gov/documents/publicinfo/omdocs/minutes/4087/2012/28265.pdf This appears to violate town ordinance Section 185-185(C), which states: "All low- and moderate-income housing units proposed are integrated throughout the development; are compatible in scale and architectural style to the market rate units within the project; and will be built and occupied prior to, or simultaneous with the construction and occupancy of any market rate units." I find no place in the minutes where the Planning Board obtained authority to bend the "built and occupied prior to, or simultaneous with" ordinance occupancy rule. Personally, I have no problem with that. But it speaks to the issue, who enforces this ordinance if the developer occupies the 5 market based units, and later fails to properly build the affordable units? I see no power for the Planning Board to bring a lawsuit against the developer. And how does this impact projects like Bluemead?
Gary Morse October 22, 2012 at 09:34 AM
Seth, In our posts, we were both using the phrase "authority of enforcement" of a local ordinance". That was the issue. I agree, the Planning Board can put "Conditions of Approval" into affordable projects. But at the moment, they are paper tigers since it appears nobody has actual oversight of the ordinance requirements. By the way, how was it the Planning Board was able to alter the ordinance (section 185-185C) covering affordable occupancy requirements?
Seth Milman October 22, 2012 at 05:09 PM
Gary - I believe the Planning Board can alter the code that you cited and grant waivers related to development because the Planning Board has authority to adopt, modify, amend, administrate, interpret, and enforce building and subdivision rules.
Gary Morse October 24, 2012 at 12:29 AM
Seth, I think you're painting the powers of the Planning Board with an overly broad brush. There is no unfettered latitude by a Planning Board to make changes to the affordable housing laws. While I do understand there are treatises on the powers of a Planning Board, we are discussing an ordinance which falls out of RIGL § 45-53-4(a)(4)(v) which states: (B) The proposed development is in compliance with the standards and provisions of the municipality's zoning ordinance and subdivision regulations, and/or where expressly varied or waived local concerns that have been affected by the relief granted do not outweigh the state and local need for low and moderate income housing. (C) All low and moderate income housing units proposed are integrated throughout the development; are compatible in scale and architectural style to the market rate units within the project; and will be built and occupied prior to, or simultaneous with the construction and occupancy of any market rate units. Where do you find that the Planning Board has "authority to adopt, modify, amend, administrate, interpret, and enforce". RIGL appears to conflict with your opinion.
Gary Morse October 24, 2012 at 09:22 AM
Seth, If I take your affordable housing legal logic to its ultimate conclusion, why then isn't the Planning Board modifying, amending, administrating, interpreting, and enforcing all of the local ordinances on behalf of residents? Is the answer really because the Planning Board does not have the broad powers you state in your post?
Seth Milman October 24, 2012 at 05:49 PM
Gary, I don't understand. You asked how the Planning Board was able to alter the ordinance section 185-185C [a town ordinance] covering affordable occupancy requirements, and how the planning board is allowed to grant waivers to developers in certain situations. This is because the Planning Board can adopt, amend, administer, etc. certain town ordinances. The Barrington town ordinances spell out the Planning Board's duties and powers in CH 37 - so you may want to check there. However, my understanding is that any adoptions, amendments, etc. still have to comply with state law.
Gary Morse October 24, 2012 at 09:38 PM
Seth, You appear to be confusing the issues. Chapter 37 of the Barrington Town Code provides the duties and powers of the Planning Board and the procedures that they have to follow if they want to recommend any changes of ordinances to the Town Council for approval. Chapter 37 does not give the Planning Board the power to “waive” an ordinance (or state law), “in vivo”, as it applies to any particular subdivision plan during the time a plan is under review by the Planning Board, which appears is what the Planning Board did in the Lavin's Marina affordable occupancy waiver. If you believe it does, and/or if the Planning Board has done so in the past, please provide specific cites so we can discuss. Thanks.
Seth Milman October 25, 2012 at 12:46 PM
Hi Gary, I'm not a RI attorney, so I'm won't try to interpret any specific rules or ordinances or provide any specific cites. However, the Planning Board, in the presence of and on the advice of the town solicitor, routinely adopts and amends town ordinances. It can also waive certain town ordinances for certain developments, and does so when it is in the best interest of the town. Suffice it to say that these are routine duties of the Planning Board. I'd prefer not to get into a detailed discussion about exactly which statutes and ordinances provide these powers. If you would like more information about that you may want to ask the town solicitor or a RI attorney.

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