Smithfield Democrats call out Poirier on senior tax freeze
Smithfield Democrats call out Poirier on senior tax freeze
SMITHFIELD - In an ad in The Valley Breeze & Observer this week, the Smithfield Democratic Town Committee is criticizing Richard Poirier, Republican candidate for Town Council, for receiving a senior tax freeze despite having a piece of rental property on his land at 320 Stillwater Road.
Democrats also note he's receiving two separate tax bills for the same parcel of land.
But Poirier responds that he is abiding by the law and he is eligible for the tax freeze.
"They're attacking an innocent senior citizen who's verging on turning 70 and paying his taxes," said Poirier, who served as the Town Council vice president from 2010 to 2012.
Suzanne Kogut, tax assessor for the town of Smithfield, told The Valley Breeze & Observer that Poirier has saved $53 through the senior tax freeze this year,
Poirier receives two tax bills for the same piece of property, she said, for billing purposes, according to a ruling by Town Solicitor Edmund Alves in September 2011.
Since the tax freeze took effect in 2012, Poirier has saved approximately $150 and has been paying two separate tax bills: one on his colonial home, which he resides in, and one on a duplex. They sit on 3.59 acres of land he owns, along with two barns and a garage, he said.
Lawrence Mancini, chairman of the Democratic Town Committee, said the issue isn't so much about the tax savings. "The appearance doesn't seem to be appropriate," he said.
Last Friday, Democratic Town Council members Suzy Alba and Bernard Hawkins, who are both running for re-election, sent a letter to Town Manager Dennis Finlay, requesting an immediate special Town Council meeting to discuss Poirier's property and tax freeze. Finlay responded that because three council members didn't support the meeting, it wasn't going to happen.
Mancini said that Alba and Hawkins wanted to ask questions of government officials involved.
"Maybe that opportunity will prevail after the upcoming election," he said. "That would be a wonderful thing."
Poirier said if they had been successful in getting a special meeting before the election, they would have been in violation of his civil rights. "In a way, I wish they had been successful," he said.
Both Poirier and the Democratic Town Committee have cited the same law while making their respective arguments.
The Town of Smithfield Code of Ordinances pertaining to tax exemptions and tax freezes reads that the tax assessor may grant a senior tax freeze to property which is owned or occupied by one or more people over the age of 65 years, regardless of their income.
The law also states that "the tax freeze on real property shall apply only to single-family dwellings owned by the taxpayer in which said person resides."
"The duplex is a separate bill," Poirier said. "Only my single-family house is frozen for taxes. The rest I'm paying like everybody else. They send me a separate bill because the other buildings are not exempt."
Kogut confirmed that only the house that Poirier lives in receives the senior tax freeze.
The Democratic Town Committee is arguing that Poirier shouldn't qualify for the senior tax freeze because he owns income-producing property, referencing an article in the Code of Ordinances which reads, "No person owning and residing in a multiple-dwelling apartment house, motel, or hotel of over three units shall be eligible to receive the $8,000 tax exemption provided for in this article."
"You don't qualify if you have incoming-producing property," Mancini said. Poirier is receiving an "extra special, highly unusual" benefit, he added. "It's an unprecedented situation that requires greater and more in-depth review."
Poirier told The Observer that he is renting out his duplex, but said, "It doesn't matter if my single family dwelling is on same lot as my other house."
In 2011, Kogut expressed hesitation to grant Poirier the tax freeze, writing to Alves in an email on Aug. 30, "I am still having a difficult time wrapping my head around the issue of the tax freeze being applicable to multi houses on one lot," and asked for his opinion on the situation.
In an email back to Kogut on Sept. 9, Alves said, "The ordinance is clear and unambiguous in its wording. The tax freeze applies only to single-family dwellings owned by the taxpayer in which that person resides ... the fact that income-producing property also exists on the parcel does not change the plain and simple wording of the ordinance."
Kogut emailed Poirier on Sept. 13 and said, "Although we have differing opinions, I will follow his (Alves') recommendation and accept your application."
Poirier said that there was no pressure put on Kogut. "It was an interpretation of the law. It was explained to the department head," he said.
The Democratic Town Committee also pointed out that in May 2009, Poirier went to the Planning Board to request an approval of a minor subdivision on his property to create two separate lots. While preliminary approval was granted, Poirier never divided the land, which Mancini said begs the question why.
According to Poirier, he was going to divide the land so his son could build a house on the property, but his family situation changed and he never followed through with the plans.
He added that even if he had gone ahead with the subdivision, the duplex would have stayed on the property with his colonial and he "still would have gotten the tax freeze."
"It's a non-issue," Poirier added and called the Democratic Town Committee "desperate" to make an issue.
Poirier said that "any senior who lives in a residence he owns" can receive the tax freeze. "That's what I do."
According to tax assessment documents from the town's website, the colonial is assessed at $100,200, while the land is at $0. The duplex property, including the land, is assessed at $233,100, and is taxed on a separate bill from the colonial, even though Poirier never divided his land.
In 2011, prior to receiving the senior tax exemption, Poirier's property was assessed at $340,800.
In 2012, when Poirier began to receive two tax bills on his property, the colonial was assessed at $103,800, while the duplex property was assessed at $237,000.