Auto tax loophole can haunt Rhode Islanders for decades
WOONSOCKET, RI (WPRI) – Former Woonsocket resident Shane Sartini walked into a Rhode Island AAA to renew his car registration in February 2018. Instead, he was told that if he wanted renew his registration, he would first have to pay $ 916 for the tax return 14 years earlier.
Sartini said he was taken aback and never received notification of the back taxes or the blocking of his listing.
A Target 12 investigation found that Rhode Island law requires a taxpayer to pay the amount even if the individual was never notified.
And while a law passed in 2019 provided for a 10-year limitation period for state collections for income, sales, inheritance, and corporate taxes, it offered no such protection for motor vehicle taxes.
As a result, RI’s motor vehicle department is able to impose tax freezes on vehicle registrations for decades-old debts, according to Peter Wasylyk, deputy district attorney for the city of Woonsocket.
Sartini said he always pays his taxes on time but only keeps tax records dating back 10 years.
âI didn’t have any of these documents,â Sartini said. “I wasn’t even with that bank anymore, so I had no way of proving my case.”
He took the city to Small Claims Court, but was told it was a Superior Court case. By then his time was up.
âI had no choice but to renew the registration, so I paid in protest,â Sartini said.
In an email, a spokesperson for the Rhode Island DMV said a new computer system launched by the agency in July 2017 made it easier to link municipal tax records to the DMV’s database.
âI know I’m not the only one,â Sartini told Target 12. âThere are several people, I’m sure, to whom they’ve done this.â
Target 12 obtained DMV records on fiscal year 2017-18 tax blocks that show 7,806 Woonsocket resident tax blocks as of November 2017. Sartini was one of them, not having only became aware of the block four months later.
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Overall that year, the DMV issued nearly 121,000 tax blocks statewide.
State Senator Frank Lombardi, who co-authored and helped push through the 2019 bill that imposed a 10-year statute of limitations on several types of tax collections, called Sartini’s tax freeze ” objectionable “and” unacceptable “.
âTen, 12, 14 years laterâ¦ it’s unacceptable,â Lombardi said. âIt shouldn’t be, and it should go away. Shame on the state for doing this.
Lombardi said his 2019 law did not include a statute of limitations for vehicle taxes because there was no demand at the time, but said he now plans to explore whether the law had to be changed.