Valley Breeze

The Valley Breeze Woonsocket North Smithfield 08-08-2019

The Valley Breeze Newspapers serving the Northern Rhode Island towns of Cumberland, Lincoln, Woonsocket, Smithfield, North Smithfield, Pawtucket, North Providence, Scituate, Foster, and Glocester

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NORTH SMITHFIELD BLACKSTONE WOONSOCKET EDITION | VALLEY BREEZE | AUGUST 8-14, 2019 THE VALLEY 21 decline since 2014, though it's diffi- cult to determine exactly how much of that is due to the latest policy change. "It's not through our fault that we're depending so much on our fines and fees. It's the financial status of our cities and towns," she said. For library patrons, the new auto- matic renewal system is an easily overlooked convenience. Many of those interviewed said they hadn't noticed a change, but Joanne O'Connell, a resident of North Providence, said she was happy when it went into effect last year. O'Connell said she visits the North Providence Public Library at least once a week and also frequents oth- ers around the state, usually leav- ing with a stack of books or DVDs under her arm. "Every now and then, you miss something to bring back, so I think it's very generous of them," she said during a visit to the North Providence Library. In an age when the majority of interactions take place online, O'Connell added she thinks it's important for libraries to continue to stay relevant in their users' daily lives. She often uses the state's online library network to check the status of her materials and thinks the auto- matic renewal feature makes things easier for patrons like her. "I think the libraries have to make sure they stay relevant in the towns now," she said. "This is just one more thing they can do to be more user-friendly." Rhode Island isn't the only state moving toward an automatic renewal system. CW MARS, the library net- work that covers much of central Massachusetts, also instituted auto- matic renewal last month. Though it's too early to tell the effects, library directors of neighboring Massachusetts towns offered differ- ent expectations depending on their previous fine policies. In Blackstone, Library Director Lisa Cheever said the town has already done away with library fines, while in Bellingham, Library Director Bernadette Rivard said any potential revenue loss would not affect the materials bud- get, which is mandated by state law. Instead, the change could affect part- time positions, which draw some funding from fine revenue. NICOLE MANOCCHIO, of Scituate, plays a board game with a friend at the North Smithfield library on Monday afternoon. She has heard of auto-renew- al and thinks she used it once. From preceding page including a school or a church. In the case of Sacred Heart Church, the building was closed after the par- ish merged with two others in July of last year and is currently up for sale. According to city tax records, the property received a bill for $21,898.24 for the 2019-2020 fiscal year. "Once the church becomes decommissioned, it's no longer tech- nically a church or a sacred space," she said. "I can't in my position give them an exemption knowing that it's not a church." In 2017, Northeast Revaluation Group completed a full revalua- tion of the city, a process Pare said prompted her to take another look at some properties that had been considered tax-exempt for many years. These included 316 South Main Street, the former Armory building that St. James Baptist Church purchased more than 20 years ago in the hope of incorporat- ing it into their ministry. Those plans never came to fruition, and last month, the church received a bill for $23,274.74. Pare said she looked at how each property was used as of Dec. 31, 2018. The date explains how 30 Cumberland Street, the home of RISE Prep Mayoral Academy, made the list. Though the charter school's move to the former Blockbuster building a few months later was well publicized, as of December, the property was still undergoing reno- vations and did not qualify for tax- exempt status as a school, according to Pare. At least one of the properties is appealing the city's decision that it's no longer used for tax-exempt pur- poses. Leo Fontaine, former mayor and director of the Father Marot CYO Center, told The Valley Breeze the organization is currently in dis- cussions with the city about the sta- tus of its properties on Federal and Clinton Streets. Last year, the center announced plans to sell its Federal Street properties and move to a new location on Harris Avenue. The sale fell through, but the move went forward, with most of the center's offices moving to the rectory of St. Stanislaus Church last fall. However, according to Fontaine, the center has continued to use the building to host some of its minis- try activities until it can find a new buyer, including a bible study series and an upcoming praise and wor- ship event. He's hoping the part-time use will be enough to wipe out a $37,449.48 tax bill on a building currently classified as "commercial" under the city tax records. "When the building was reported as being sold, the city basically had the assumption that we were no longer in the building and not using it," he said. "But after that sale never came to fruition, we have continued to use the building, albeit not as before, and will continue to be using the building until the property sells." The center's situation caught the notice of City Councilor John Ward, who raised concerns over the unexpected bills at Monday's City Council meeting. Though he wasn't disputing the tax status of the properties in question, he said, he found it troubling that the organiza- tions were not notified of the status change until they received a bill in the mail. "To simply do it with no notice, send a bill for $25,000 to $35,000 and not give the courtesy of a notifi- cation, I found disturbing," he said. Later in the meeting, councilors voted unanimously to support an ordinance that curbs the city's ability to change a property's tax-exempt status without notice, requiring the tax assessor to notify the property owner and City Council of the change in writing at least 90 days before sending a bill. The measure also applies the standards previously used to levy non-utilization taxes to formerly tax-exempt properties. Under the new measure, any orga- nization that can demonstrate it is actively marketing a vacant property or have used it for tax-exempt pur- poses within the prior calendar year would continue to be exempt. Though the new ordinance will have no effect on the current year's taxes, Ward said he plans to ask his fellow councilors to consider an abatement of taxes for the six prop- erties. If that doesn't pass, he said, the organizations' next option will be to file appeals in Superior Court. The ARMORY building, above, owned by St. James Baptist Church and the former FATHER MAROT CYO CENTER on Federal Street, left, are among several properties that received unex- pected tax bills this year after the city removed their tax- exempt status. TAX BILLS From Page One 2044 Smith St., North Providence, RI (401) 231-2370 fax (401) 232-9220 Congratulations! You're Engaged! Come see the largest selection of tuxedos and accessories in RI for all your formal wear needs! Ask about our Wedding Specials Ask about our Wedding Specials Ask about our Wedding Specials Peter J. HoPkins ~ Attorney At LAw ~ DUI/refUsAL • CrImInAL Defense trAffIC VIoLAtIons • JUVenILe CrImes PersonAL InJUry • ProbAte • DIVorCe Admitted to the Practice of Law in Rhode Island and Massachusetts Retired Police Prosecution Officer CALL 401-356-1043 191 Social St., Suite 280, Woonsocket, RI Rhode Island does not have a procedure for certificate or recognition of specialization by lawyers.

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