2012-12-20 / Letters to the Editor

‘Unfairly’ denied for senior tax allowance

I am 83 years old and have paid Jamestown property taxes since 1973. I became a full-time resident in 1994.

I was away earlier this year for several months. Therefore, the tax assessor denied my application for the senior property tax allowance although I met all of the requirements: age, low annual income and residency. He said, “Seasonal or temporary absence from the town is a disqualifier.”

What does that really mean? Can’t I go on vacation? Visit my children? Help a relative if they’re sick?

The description of “seasonal” and “temporary” is vague and can be discriminative.

There is no definition of an actual period of time. The town ordinance for residency for seniors 65 or older says that a “resident means one legally domiciled within the town of Jamestown for a period of five years. ... Mere seasonal or temporary residence within the town of whatever duration does not constitute domicile within the town for the purpose of this section. Absence from the town for a period of 12 months is prima facie evidence of abandonment of domicile in the town.”

Because of the denial, I did some research of the surrounding towns that give tax allowances to residents that qualify. Middletown, South Kingstown, Portsmouth, Narragansett, Westerly, Exeter and North Kingstown residents are allowed six months away from their homes. In fact, several town ordinances read the same as Jamestown’s but with no loss of tax exemption to their legal residents.

The tax assessor’s response to an inquiry by the R.I. Center for Law and Public Policy was, “Applicants who spend winter away from their Jamestown home are seasonal residents and ineligible for the exemption.”

I believe that Mr. Gray is seriously misinterpreting the town ordinance regarding who is eligible.

The following is a determination from an attorney serving the Rhode Island Bar Association’s elderly division: “Although the tax assessor has the right to require you to produce supporting information to prove your eligibility, he does not have the power of his position to arbitrarily and unreasonably deny or disregard such proof nor to substitute his own interpretations of the law. The tax assessor is arbitrarily interpreting the meaning of mere seasonal or temporary residence. This phase is intended to disqualify residents who are domiciled legal residents of another town or state, not to disqualify legally domiciled residents of Jamestown that merely take a vacation outside of Jamestown.”

The lawyer also said that courts look to where the person is registered to vote as “evidence of legal domicile.”

Additionally, Rhode Island General Law considers someone a resident for income tax purposes if they live in the state for 183 days a year.

The fact that anyone may vacation in another state should not disqualify a legal resident who pays R.I. taxes, has a R.I. vehicle registration, a R.I. drivers license, and votes in Rhode Island. Those facts should be adequate evidence that a person is not a temporary resident.

Any Jamestown senior who believes that they have been treated unfairly by the tax assessor should call 295-4545.

Lorraine Brothers
423-2211
Deck Street
Jamestown

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