The City Council called a temporary halt to the Homestead Exemption audit in East Providence on Tuesday night, Nov. 20.
The vote was 3-1 with one absence. The audit won't continue, it appears, until the letter going out to homeowners is stripped of language that says a federal income tax return can be used as proof of residency.
"Are we really asking for people to show us their federal tax returns?" said City Councilor William Conley. "Where is the law that says we can do that?"
The response from City Manager Peter Graczykowski and Finance Director Malcolm Moore was that a federal return is only one of the suggested ways to prove residency.
"People need two of the five" suggested proofs of residency on the letter, said Moore. Such as a RI driver's license and and vehicle registration.
The other proofs listed on the letter to homeowners are a RI voter registration, a Social Security statement/bank statement and the federal income tax return.
A utility bill could be used as well, said Graczykowski. A piece of mail to a person's home could be sufficient proof for the tax assessor. None of those are listed on the letter, though.
It is the federal income tax return that got Conley and Mayor Bruce Rogers all fired up Tuesday night.
"I am telling people not to bring their federal tax returns to the city," said Rogers.
In fact, he said, "Do not bring your tax returns."
Because the letter going out to homeowners still lists the income tax return as a proof of residency, though, the City Council decided to put a moratorium on the audit. It probably won't begin again until a new letter without that suggested proof of residency is approved by the City Council and then distributed.
The audit is an attempt "to make sure all homeowners who get a Homestead Exemption are entitled to it," said Graczykowski previously."We want to make sure the exemptions are going to the right people."
East Providence has more than 11,000 exemptions worth almost $7 million, he said. Based on audits done elsewhere in similar cities, the city could save up to $200,000.
The cost of finding out if everyone receiving an exemption is entitled to it will cost about $8,000, he said.
"This will certify everyone," Graczykowski said.
The original deadline for residents to fill out form and provide proof of residency was Nov. 30. It was moved to Dec. 15 when the mailing was messed up by the mailing company, said the city manager. Many East Providence residents still have not received the form.
Given the moratorium, you can probably ignore the letter when you receive it -- at least for a few more weeks.