Tax changes may assuage aggrieved R.S. property owners
— The town board plans to introduce a resolution in the coming weeks that would revise the way the town charges properties for debt services.
That resolution could mean that some taxpayers who own undeveloped lots could see refunds of $384.
“At the next meeting, we will introduce a resolution to add all the defined properties without a buildable base,” said Commissioner Dave Warnick, referring to 30 tiny pieces of land in town whose owners were billed under the new tax plan enacted in June.
As part of that plan, Rising Sun officials raised the property tax rate with the new budget year from 40.6 to 48 cents per $100 of assessed value. Otherwise, to get the needed revenue, the town would have been forced to raise property taxes as much as 62 percent, Warnick said.
To help property owners absorb the increase, the mayor and commissioners voted to convert each taxpayer’s share of the debt
service to the property tax bill. The cost of trash pickup was also redefined as debt service. The result was expected to allow the $384 additional cost to be deducted from the income tax obligation.
However, that change also meant that as many as 30 incidental properties in Rising Sun — predominantly in the center of town or attached to agricultural land on the outskirts — were being billed. It’s land that Warnick said is not eligible for development because of its size.
“For example, one small parcel on North Queen Street is in the middle of a driveway,” Warnick said Wednesday. “It’s 165 square feet. We’re going to agree that 165 square feet can’t be developed.”
“It’s the result of old survey methods and legacy lot lines,” he added. “It’s an artifact of our history.”
Warnick has spent hours pouring over GIS and town zoning maps to identify all these properties and rescue the owners from the tax. He’s found about 30 of these so-called “spider properties,” most of which will be excused from the flat tax assessment.
“We really intended for this one house to have a single assessment of $384,” Warnick said.
Warnick said if one of these tiny parcels is large enough to support future development — including the proper square footage to allow for setbacks — it would likely be charged.
“If it were a big enough lot to be built on it’s an investment,” Warnick said.
However, most are not even large enough to allow for a shed, he noted. Only tracts eligible for a primary structure should be getting the debt service bill, he said.
At recent town meetings, owners who received tax bills for the micro-parcels sought relief. Jeff Jackson’s 56-square-foot patch was being taxed more than it was worth he told officials in July. It’s one of several pieces he owns.
“There’s no water or sewer service and no trash pickup either,” Jackson said at that meeting, adding he is paying for services he does not receive.
“Trash pickup is now funded by the real estate assessment regardless of the size of the property. That means commercial is paying it even though they get nothing from it,” Warnick said. “There’s all kinds of services that our taxes pay for that we may not use.”
So what is the debt service paying for? Warnick listed the mortgage for town hall among the debts.
“Debt service does include the water tower and some lagoon repairs from years ago. Street repaving sidewalks and vehicle loans are rolled in too,” he said.
Warnick said the town is no longer pursuing the idea of combining these spider properties into the larger tract, citing the cost. To have the land survey conducted and the deed changed could cost more than $2,000 for the property owner.
Meanwhile, many of those owners identified who have already paid some or all of their tax bill can get the debt service portion refunded, Warnick said.
“Mr. Jackson, once the resolution is passed, he will get a reimbursement for a portion of it,” Warnick said.
The triangle seen in this GIS map shows one of the 30 parcels found in Rising Sun, which are too small to have anything built on them. The commissioners plan to introduce a resolution later this month which will excuse the properties from the new flat tax for debt service.