How Jamestown works: The man in charge of assessing your assets
Money is the lifeblood of any municipality. It is the oil that keeps the machinery of government running smoothly. There are a variety of funding sources for any town or city, but money is primarily raised through the levying of taxes on local residents and businesses. In Jamestown, the responsibility for assessing and collecting this levy falls on the tax department.
Ken Gray has been the Jamestown tax assessor since 2003. Gray grew up in Plainville, Conn., and attended Brown University, where he attained a bachelor’s degree in sociology. After graduating from college, Gray worked for several years for Hess Oil before leaving to go to work for his family’s offi ce supply and equipment business in Fall River, Mass.
After nearly 30 years, Gray sold the family business when the rise of the big-box stores made it tough for mom-and-pop operations to do business. He then shifted his focus to real estate appraisal. It was that experience that led him to his present position in Jamestown.
According to the job description, the duties of the tax assessor include creating the annual tax rolls so that tax bills can be sent out in a timely and efficient manner. The assessor does this by evaluating and listing property in three categories: automobiles, tangible assets and real estate. The assessor is also responsible for the statistical revaluations and full revaluations that are mandated by state law.
Other responsibilities of the assessor include keeping track of exemptions granted to taxpayers such as senior citizens, veterans and municipal volunteers. Gray must also keep track of all land that has qualified as forest, farm or open land, and review tax appeals.
There are three tax categories in Jamestown. One of those is the automobile tax. In the late 1990s, the state of Rhode Island tried to discontinue the automobile tax, and toward that end an ever-increasing exemption was given to car owners. That exemption peaked at $6,000 with the state making up for the lost municipal revenue by sending reimbursement to the towns.
With the decline in the economy, the effort to end the automobile tax was ended. While some communities returned to full value taxation, others, including Jamestown, chose to continue the $6,000 exemption, despite the fact that no more compensatory funds were forthcoming from the state. The value of each automobile is determined by the R.I. Vehicle Valuation Committee, which uses the National Automobile Dealers Association average retail vehicle price.
The total value of all automobiles in Jamestown, after the $6,000 exemption, is approximately $30 million. Based on the tax rate of $14.42 for every $1,000, the automobile tax adds about $500,000 to the town coffers.
Another tax category is tangible property. This title refers to all of the assets that belong to the businesses in Jamestown. At the end of every year, Gray sends out a declaration form to business owners asking them to list their assets, including equipment, fixtures and anything else that has value. The business owners are then billed based on that declaration.
“It’s a relatively small part of our tax base,” Gray said. “Tangible property runs about $10 million.” Based on the current tax rate of $9.21 for every $1,000, taxes of tangible property contributes about $100,000 to the town budget.
Real estate taxes are far and away the largest sector of the tax base. The current real estate tax rate in Jamestown is $9.21 for every
$1,000. Statistical revaluations take place every three years, and full revaluations occur every nine years. A statistical revaluation is based on local property sales and market conditions.
There is a full revaluation scheduled for 2012. A full revaluation calls for a new inspection of each house. It is a process that takes months, and bids are currently out to choose the company that will get the job.
“Many people get concerned about revaluations,” Gray said. “Revaluations are not done to raise more money. The amount of money that we raise is based on the budget that gets passed at the town meeting. The valuations are done to try to equitably distribute the tax burden.”
Because of the way revaluations are conducted, Gray feels that it is important for each property owner makes sure that their property record is correct. Property records can be accessed at the town’s website.
The total value of residential and commercial property in Jamestown is close to $2 billion. Based on the current tax rate, total real estate taxes, after exemptions, amount to approximately $18 million.
All in all, according to Gray, Jamestown is in pretty good shape.
“In many ways we’re lucky to be in a well-run town like Jamestown,” he said. “We’ve been relatively conservative, that’s why we’re not in serious trouble with the pension funding and all of that. We’ve been careful, and it pays off in times like this. Other towns are struggling to keep up.”