EXETER—As an incoming Town Councilman for the Town of Exeter, the last thing Dan Patterson wants to do is ruffle any feathers or stir trouble in his community … at least before he’s officially sworn in anyway.
Unfortunately, that’s no longer an option.
Thanks to a report on investigative journalist Jim Hummel’s web site (www.hummelreport.com ), allegations were raised early last week that the newly-elected Patterson was unfairly bilking the town of Exeter out of nearly $1,000 annually in property tax revenue by driving a newly purchased 2009 GMC Sierra truck that was registered in Vermont, a state that has no property tax on vehicles.
While it’s true that the truck in question is registered in the Green Mountain State, and therefore not bound by Rhode Island property tax rules and regulations, Patterson contends there is no controversy.
And allegations that he’s not paying his fair share? He calls those ridiculous.
“At the whole outset, I was not avoiding paying property taxes,” Patterson said last Thursday. “My [gripe] was over the (denial of a) farm plate. I was thoroughly disgusted at that point with the state of Rhode Island. After showing you the paperwork, you see what I went through. You try to do something the right way and you still get screwed.”
Patterson’s story is as simple as it is complex.
As owner of ShanBri Farms on Rt. 2, Patterson often deals with the state of Vermont in his day-to-day business operations. A good chunk of his business, he says, involves going to the state, interacting with locals and, often, transporting goods from Vermont to Rhode Island.
Because of this, Patterson was on the lookout for a reliable vehicle, both for work and personal use, back in March and, after an exhaustive search for a truck with a Duramax Diesel Engine that he felt could meet his needs, found the 2009 GMC Sierra in question in Maine.
All told, the vehicle came to roughly $42,000.
That’s where the story gets interesting.
According to Patterson, when he went to register the vehicle, it was improperly registered to his business (ShanBri Farms LLC) and not to himself.
From that point, Patterson says, he went to the Division of Taxation to change the name on the registration and, after some back and forth arguing with officials over his exempt status, paid $2,943.79 in sales tax to the state of Rhode Island.
The only caveat? The DOT refused to allow him a farm plate, a plate that he says would have given him an exemption on the sales tax but not on property taxes in the town itself, taxes he would have had to pay at whole market value.
“At that point, I am thoroughly disgusted,” Patterson said. “I spent a week with these people, four or five days with the registry. I said ‘I’m done’.”
Patterson then took the vehicle to Vermont, registered it in Vermont, and began using the truck in his day-to-day operations.
That is, until word got around that Patterson had a Vermont plate on his vehicle.
“I moved it to shut my critics up,” he said. “That way I’m in conformance with Rhode Island state law. I’m not violating law. It’s in a state that I own property in, that I pay taxes in. It’s not here. I’m not using it in Rhode Island at this moment.”
Asked if he’s avoiding paying local taxes on his car, Patterson says he’s not breaking any rules.
“I’m not avoiding the tax, that’s the thing,” he said. “It’d be the same argument of ‘Gee, you’ve got a piece of property in Vermont, how come we can’t tax it down here in Rhode Island?”. I’m waiting to hear that one next.”
In the time since the Hummel Report story, Patterson has produced a copy of the check he used to pay the Rhode Island Division of Taxation $2,943.79 in sales tax. This, he argues, is proof that he’s paying his fair share.
“Oh, when I look at my tax bills, I know I’m paying more than the fair share,” he said. “It works out to about $197 per week.”
Long-term, Patterson plans on bringing the truck back to Rhode Island and registering it with the state. And those days it was registered in Rhode Island? Next year, when the tax rolls come around, he’ll have to pay those taxes as well.
In essence, Patterson says, it’s a non-story.
“Yes, everybody that’s responded to me, they feel the same way,” he said. “They’re laughing at it.”
Hummel, meanwhile, stands by his report.
“I will stand by the story that we posted last week,” he said. “Mr. Patterson told us that he had paid the sales tax and I had no reason to disbelieve him at the time but, as any reporter would do, I wanted to see the proof. As I put in my story, I followed up with two emails and a phone call, all of which he chose to ignore, so I didn’t have any substantiation on the sales tax.
Obviously you have it, but the fact remains that by being registered in Vermont, instead of Rhode Island, means that that vehicle is not being taxed, for the car tax purposes, by the town of Exeter. Let’s put it this way: the town of Exeter has no means to be able to tax it because it’s registered out of state and that was the original point of my story.”
And as for the argument that it’s not a story? Hummel disagrees.
“The whole point of my story was for every dollar that somebody is not paying toward the Exeter levy, somebody else has to pick up and clearly this was an issue,” he said. “I got tips on this story going back a couple of months. Clearly it was an issue for some people who saw him driving around in the town of Exeter with out of town plates who may have just gotten tax bills from the Exeter tax assessor that were substantially more than last year …
That’s the whole reason we did the story. Is everybody paying their fair share? So, at the end of the day, Mr. Patterson has his argument. I wish he had chosen to have the same dialogue with me that he’s having with you, but, that’s his choice.”