The woman on the other end of the line was troubled.
She is disabled and has had her property taxes frozen for years. Last week, however, she received a form from the city’s tax assessor requiring her to list her assets and all forms of income. This had never been required by the city previously.
What had changed? Would her information be disclosed to anyone else? What would happen if it fell into the hands of someone who wanted to steal her identity? Why was the city suddenly prying into her affairs?
The woman, who asked not to be named, was not alone. Others called the Beacon. The story was the same. All said they were being required to disclose a lot of personal financial information that apparently had no bearing on their being disabled.
The fact is more than 550 disabled property owners on the tax freeze program received the letters and the financial disclosure forms.
City Tax Assessor Evelyn Spagnolo said Friday the packets, which were meant to go to those on the city’s Circuit Breaker or Tax Credit program, were mistakenly mailed to those on the tax freeze program. As has happened in prior years, those on the tax freeze program need only present proof that they are 100 percent disabled, not working and a Warwick resident and head of household.
Under the program, property taxes are “frozen” at the time an applicant is approved. The property owner pays taxes at that level as long as he or she remains eligible. This is not a tax deferment program and has no bearing on the value of the property or the person’s capability to pay taxes.
The circuit breaker program, on the other hand, which provides tax credits of up to $1,000, is based on household gross income as well as age and disability. Taxpayers who are 65 or older or 100 percent disabled are eligible for the program if their gross household income is $24,328 or less. According to the city’s statement of assessed values and tax levy, the city provided $385,355 in circuit breaker credits for 2013.
According to the statement, taxes on property where taxes were frozen brought in $1.2 million in revenues. The statement doesn’t indicate how much would have been generated in taxes had the freeze not been in place.
Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur also heard about the mailing snafu. He received a call from a disabled veteran.
He said completing a financial form wouldn’t change the disability, “It makes no sense. You don’t put him through the wringer.”
Ladouceur said the mistake has proven really stressful for the elderly and disabled, who fear they might lose the benefit.
Ladouceur thinks the city should send another letter assuring them that the criteria haven’t changed.
“They need to know they don’t have to fill out all of this disclosure,” he said.
Spagnolo said yesterday she doesn’t have the funds for an additional mailing, but if they were made available she would do so. While the tax freeze program makes no distinction between ability to pay, Spagnolo believes “this is a lifeline for most of them.”
She said she received about a half-dozen calls since the letters went out. She said some of the callers felt “threatened” and thought “they were being investigated.” She assured that wasn’t the case.
“Nobody is being singled out,” she said.
The deadline for applying for the tax freeze is March 15.