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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.

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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