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Curmudgeon's Corner: Real Estate market, not groups, affect property tax (OPINION)

December 21, 2011

wo weeks ago in a letter to the editor of this newspaper, the indefatigable Harvey Waxman criticizes yet again the property tax as the funding mechanism for municipal services.
Dr. Waxman posits that the “true goal of any municipal tax [is] that everyone pay their fair share in direct relation to a community’s needs.” He seems particularly hung up on the concept of periodic revaluation of real estate claiming that “with each revaluation…money flows from one group of owners to another group…completely unrelated to incomes, ability to pay or any rational measure.”
First of all, money does not, as he asserts, change hands from one group to another.
To the progressive mind, fairness is the Holy Grail. Unfortunately, many taxes are unfair. A person with an income below the poverty level pays the same rate of sales tax as those egregious bankers and rapacious executives that are so vilified by President Obama and the Occupy Wall Street protestors. Someone who never sets foot in a RIPTA bus pays that agency 10 cents a gallon every time he or she pumps gas into their private car.
An individual’s wealth is not measured only by her or his annual income stream. Net worth must also be considered as a “rational measure” of wealth. Bill and Melinda Gates are not listed among the richest people in the world because of his income. It is due to the value the stock market places on their holdings of Microsoft stock.
What concerns folks like Dr. Waxman is that the vagaries of the real estate market can affect the amount of property tax an owner must pay and, as everyone knows, real estate is an illiquid asset.
I can think of two solutions to Dr. Waxman’s conundrum. First, any senior citizen living in a house overlooking Narragansett Bay the value of which increases dramatically can take out a reverse mortgage to pay all the costs of ownership, including the real estate tax, and still enjoy the view. The reverse mortgage does not have to be repaid until the property is sold or the owner moves on to the condo in the sky.
Second, an ordinance could be passed so that a person who does not want to or cannot for some reason take out a reverse mortgage could apply for an exemption which would enable the town to place a lien on the property for the unpaid amount plus the interest on the tax anticipation notes the municipality would issue to fund its services to the citizenry.
While neither of these will appeal to progressives like Dr. Waxman, it is certainly unfair to tax someone who liquidates an investment portfolio and let a homeowner who sells her or his primary residence off the hook of capital gain.
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Those of us who live in the north end of town are very familiar with the severe ponding that occurs near the intersection of Post and Essex Roads every time there is a heavy rainstorm. RIDOT is just finishing the replacement of curbstones, new sidewalks and crosswalks and resurfacing this section of US Route 1 at a cost to taxpayers of $1.5 million.
The puddles in this area are now deeper than ever. Orange barrels are placed on both sides of the road to funnel four lanes of traffic down to two, thereby creating a dangerous situation despite the presence of a stoplight at that corner. The barrels are there 24 or more hours after the rain stops.
Last week, Lindsay Olivier reported on the reaction of the state department responsible for our highways. RIDOT’s spokesman said “it’s a very complex project, one that involves a lot of challenges”. Charles St. Martin opined that to fix the problem would cost $7.5 million. Bottom line: “other projects around the state are taking precedence.”
I suggest that all readers save last week’s edition of this newspaper to give your attorney if you should be involved in an accident caused by hydroplaning or skidding on the ice that will surely exist at that location during the winter season. The lawyer can use it in your lawsuit against the state.
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Even mayors of cities on the Left Coast are fed up with the Occupy Wall Street crowd squatting in squalor in public places since the beginning of September. Here in the True Blue Northeast mayors like Michael Bloomberg of New York City, Thomas Menino of Boston and Angel Tavares of Providence have enabled these anarchists by failing to enforce existing laws and regulations against overnight camping in public parks. Deadlines in Providence have come and gone with no action – only meetings with the occupiers and their pro-bono attorney.
Not to be outdone, Governor Chafee permitted marchers from Burnside Park to camp out on the State House grounds last Saturday night to support ambiguities such as a dedicated funding stream for affordable housing, a homeless bill of rights and something called “Just Cause Foreclosure Legislation.”
Of course, the protestors offer no explanation of how these programs are to be funded other than “tax the rich” – i.e. confiscate their money and redistribute it through government bureaucracies.
Last month, I went to Kennedy Plaza to confirm my suspicion that many of the “occupiers” of Burnside Park are college kids from Brown, RISD and Johnson & Wales who hang out between classes, maybe score some weed and go back to their warm, dry dorm rooms and apartments at night. Others are urban wanderers who enjoy the free food brought in by various labor unions. Indeed, Providence police used infrared devices to count the two dozen or so overnighters in the 70 tents in the park. This, of course, sparked a protest by the ACLU.
Last week, a reporter for the state’s daily newspaper interviewed James Vecchione, 36, who has been a Burnside Park occupier from day one. Vecchione dropped out of high school, got a GED and then a degree in philosophy from URI. He says he is “still looking for [his] path and what the world is about…and my role in it.”
Mr. Vecchione says “there’s not a lot of solid work (whatever that means) I can sink my teeth into and make a living wage (however much that is)”. Nevertheless, according to Vecchione, “something clicked. I was here the first day, the first meeting.”
Translation: I have drifted through life and don’t have a clue what to do. I have no marketable skills and believe that I am entitled to a substantial paycheck from somebody anyway. I have found some kindred spirits and it’s fun to hang out and shoot the bull with them. The food is free and once in a while I may get lucky with a co-ed who is as misdirected as I am.
Perhaps he should consider becoming a “community organizer” for an organization like ACORN.
There is another word for “occupiers” like Vecchione: loser.
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Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas everyone!

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