NARRAGANSETT — Despite the short window of time between passage of the measure and a key filing deadline, Narragansett received more than 3,000 applications for the homestead exemption.
“I think it was a success that we got 3,000 people,” Town Manager James Manni said in an interview Monday.
“It was busy, but organized,” Tax Assessor Allen Booth said regarding the process.
The homestead exemption was approved on a 3-1 vote of the Town Council Feb. 27, with President Pro Tem Matthew Mannix abstaining and Councilor Jill Lawler voting against. The measure allows the council to exempt up to 10 percent of property value from taxes for those who qualify. It is intended to reward full-time resident homeowners.
Under state law, applications for the exemption had to be submitted to the town assessor’s office by March 15. The day after the vote, town staff members met to discuss how to proceed in light of that narrow window.
“The Town Council president [Susan Cicilline Buonanno] and other members of the council asked ... ‘We know it’s a short window here, can we implement this and get it done in two weeks?’” Manni said. “After talking with Laura [Kenyon], the finance director, and other staff members, we decided yes, if you give us two weeks we can get this done.”
He added: “It passed Feb. 27. Tuesday morning at 8 a.m. we were all sitting together, reviewed the application for accuracy and ease. Then we strategized how we’re going to get the word out to the residents, fully knowing it was a short time frame. So our goal was to cast the net as wide as possible to catch as many eligible residents as possible. The goal that we met of 3,000 is very acceptable to us.”
The application went on the website by 8:30 a.m. Feb. 28, and an advertisement was also put in a local newspaper. Applications were available at a local bank, and Town Council members gave out applications to their constituents. Homeowners associations also helped to spread the word, according to Manni.
“We estimated through the tax assessor and finance director that we had approximately 3,000 to 3,200 eligible residences that were qualified for this,” the town manager said. “So we’re right around 3,000, that’s a pretty high figure for what we knew as the total number.”
The town staff also went to elderly residents’ homes and in some cases filled out the application in the parking lot of the Town Hall. Hours of operation were also extended, and in some cases six clerks worked to receive applications.
“I’ve heard nothing but positive things,” Manni said, noting that people had praised the work of the town staff and the ease of the application during Narragansett’s recent Restaurant Week kickoff. “People approached me and members of the staff saying it was very easy. I don’t know if they thought it was going to be a difficult process when it came down here.”
Manni said he personally received only one complaint from someone who was unaware of the tight time frame for submission of homestead exemption applications.
“I’m very confident that we did the best we could, we got it out there as best we could,” he said, noting that while some had asked if the townwide emergency alert system Code Red could have been used, such a notification is not among its purposes.
“Given our estimate of the number of people that we estimated were eligible, and the number of applications we got, I don’t think if we had a year to do it we would have gotten much better,” Booth said. “Most Rhode Island communities if not all of them have veterans exemptions ... Every year someone will come in and say, ‘I’ve been here for five years and I’ve never heard of this.’ Are we going to miss some of the homestead people? Yes, but it’s not from lack of trying.”
“We actually picked up some seniors and veterans exemption applications during the process for the homestead,” Kenyon said. “There are people that applied for additional exemptions while they were here.”
“People who had called and said, ‘I’m out of town, what can I do?’ We told them to fill out the form, get it here and then bring in the rest of the paperwork when you get back to town, so we weren’t at all negative,” Booth said. “I think a lot of people appreciated the fact that as long as we knew you believed you were eligible, we would wait until the 17th or pick a date that you were going to come in with a copy of your income taxes ... Fill out the form, bring it in when you get done.”
Booth estimates it will take a couple of weeks to finish processing the applications.
“We’ve got about 3,000, we’re probably going to get through a few hundred each day,” he said. “The office doesn’t stop; people are going to come in, they’re going to look for field cards, they’re going to need to look at plat maps, they’re going to ask normal everyday tax assessor questions, which we’re going to have to answer ... and in the interim, we’re going to do as many applications [as we can].”
The homestead exemption will not be in the initial recommended town budget since the figures will not be known, Kenyon said.
“The town manager’s budget is just about done, so we don’t have that information. So it will go to them during the budget work sessions,” she said.
Still to be determined is whether, and to what extent, the homestead exemption will be implemented for the coming year.
“That’s a policy decision that they’re going to make,” Manni said, referring to the Town Council. “They’ve made it, now they have to implement it. So we have to give them all the supporting documentation to make a well-informed decision, so one of the things that we will do is come up with the total amount of assessed value. So we will give them a number of total assessed value. They will come up with 1 percent to 10 percent. Wherever that number falls, whatever their goals are, however they make the decision, we will implement it.”