SMITHFIELD – Town Assessor Drew Manlove says he’s ringing the alarm on the loopholes and conflicts he sees within the town’s senior tax freeze ordinance, which he says is in dire need of updates.

During a presentation to the Town Council on Tuesday, Manlove gave an overview of the details and statistics of the property tax benefit program, encouraging the council to take action. He said the council needs to focus on the intent of the program and make amendments to the ordinance.

Manlove said the complicated ordinance does not contemplate conflicts within it, and is complicated to implement, leaving tax officials to sort through those conflicts.

“Our office is administerial. We do not create policy for anything. It’s a hard place to be in,” he said.

Manlove said he does not recommend abolishing the policy, but adjusting it.

“Tax freezes are complicated. They’re bad tax policy, to be quite frank with you,” he said.

During his presentation, Manlove explained that any property tax benefit program does not cost the town any money, but does shift the tax burden to others.

“If you are a taxpayer, and you do not qualify for a tax benefit, then you pay for that benefit,” he said.

According to Manlove, about a quarter of single-family home and condo owners are enrolled in the senior tax freeze program, or 1,707 residents. Each senior receives tax savings starting at $134 and reaching as high as $4,088. The average annual tax savings for seniors is $1,005.

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The senior tax freeze program in turn costs the average taxpayer owning a single-family home assessed at $316,600 around $267 in taxes annually, he noted.

Additionally, Manlove said the cost-to-benefit ratio for the senior tax freeze program is on the low end. For each $1 a taxpayer puts into the program, the senior tax freeze program receives $4 in benefits. He said the ratio is low due to the number of enrollees in the program.

Programs for veterans, blind and disabled are mandated by the state, unlike the senior tax freeze created by the Town Council in the 1980s, said Manlove.

In Smithfield, 857 veterans, 134 disabled, and 14 blind residents enrolled in a tax benefit program. They cost the average taxpayer $28, $7, and $1

The cost-benefit ratio for the veterans program is $6 in benefits for every $1 from taxpayers, $38 in benefits for every $1 for the program to the disabled, and $359 for every $1 from taxpayers for the tax benefit program to blind residents.

Also unique to Smithfield is the stone wall tax benefit program, where residents with property containing stone walls 50 feet in length and three feet in height, built before 1900 and structurally maintained and free of noxious weeds and vegetation, receive an $84 tax credit. A total of 131 residents are enrolled in the program, costing the average single-family homeowner an average of $2. Its cost-to-benefit ratio is $4 for every $1 from taxpayers.

“There really should be a compelling justification for every additional tax dollar you ask a taxpayer to cover for someone else. I believe the justification for the taxpayer is not evident,” Manlove said.

Town Manager Randy Rossi said issues with the ordinance will be perfect ones to tackle for the newly formed Financial Review Commission, which has its first meeting next week.

“We’re going to need a game plan to really fix the problem,” Rossi said.

Council President Suzy Alba noted that no current council members helped create the senior tax freeze, and she would like a workshop with Manlove to better understand the ordinance’s faults. She said there is a lot of information to digest and understand.

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