Providence mayor vows to veto City Council’s property-tax increase

01:00 AM EDT on Thursday, July 29, 2010

By Philip Marcelo

Journal Staff Writer

PROVIDENCE — The City Council Wednesday night narrowly voted to approve a $284-million tax levy for the fiscal year that started July 1, a proposal that increases the rate by 25 percent and repeals a break for some non-owner-occupied multifamily dwellings.

But Mayor David N. Cicilline has promised to veto the plan, a move that the council says might prevent the city from sending out tax bills on time.

With a deadline of July 30 for setting the tax fast approaching, the council says there may not be enough time to hold another public meeting to override the veto. Even so, it’s not clear that the majority in the 8-to-7 decision would have the two-thirds vote required to override a veto.

“The financial future of this city is in the mayor’s hands now,” said City Councilman John J. Igliozzi, who chairs the council’s Finance Committee.

Cicilline objects to the council’s proposed rate increase, which is about $1 per $1,000 of assessed value higher than his proposed rate increase. He also says the repeal of the break for some multifamily dwellings is illegal because it was introduced after a public hearing on July 14.

The council maintains that Cicilline’s tax levy, introduced in April, would still have increased the rate significantly. Council members also say the mayor’s office had helped develop the plan to eliminate the tax break, which grants non-owner-occupied dwellings of five units or less an exemption on the first 33 percent of assessed value.

About 11,811 residential properties would be affected by the loss of the exemption, according to the council and the mayor’s office.

But city landlords say the plan would devastate them at a time when many have already lowered rents to combat high vacancy rates. They say renters will bear the brunt of the tax rate increase and investors will be turned away from the city, leaving foreclosed homes to languish.

“It’s a slap in the face for neighborhoods like South Providence and Olneyville, where they are already dealing with so many boarded-up houses and people are living month to month,” said Ric Santurri, a city landlord. Michele Caprio, executive director of the Greater Providence Board of Realtors, says that if the mayor does not veto the levy, her organization will consider suing the city.

The council’s levy would increase the residential tax rate from $24.21 per $1,000 of assessed value to $30.38 and increase the commercial-property tax rate from $28.60 per $1,000 to $33.70. The tangible-property tax and the car tax would remain at $53.63 per $1,000 and $76.78, respectively.

But the council has said that even with the residential rate increase, about 70 percent of homeowners will pay less in taxes, with the average owner saving about $300 to $400, due to this year’s property revaluation.

Unless the mayor vetoes the levy, property owners should expect to receive tax bills in mid-August.