I-Team: Tax trouble in North Providence
NORTH PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Greg Brailsford has owned a house on Palou Drive in North Providence for 15 years, even before he met his wife, Melissa.
The couple married six years ago, and in 2010 wanted to refinance into a more affordable mortgage.
"I had closed a business a couple of years before so my credit wasn't as good as hers, and the bank said, 'Let's use the best possible credit we can between the two of you,'" Brailsford said.
The couple used Melissa's credit. The new deed was in her name.
The paper transfer triggered the town's tax assessor to send out a new homestead exemption application in the mail.
In the past, the common exemption had given the Brailsfords a 20 percent tax break.
In order to get the tax break in North Providence, residents need to provide Town Hall proof they live in their house. They have to provide a bank statement, proof of voter registration, and a utility bill.
The Brailsfords didn't have a utility bill in Melissa's name and didn't want to hurt their credit during the refinance.
"The mortgage officer specifically told me don't go applying to anything, we want to make sure your credit remains the way it is -- to my wife," Brailsford said. "I'm sure this is not a big deal. I'm sure we can provide something else that they can take as proof that you live here."
The town got Melissa's driver's license, a bank statement, a cell phone bill, voter registration, the couple's marriage certificate and their daughter's birth certificate, which had their home address on the official state document.
Their town councilor even vouched for them. He lives across the street.
"None of that was acceptable to them. The utility bill is what they really wanted," Brailsford said.
The utility bill was the sticking point. The town's tax assessor denied the couple their exemption.
"When all of a sudden they say your taxes are 20 percent higher now ... That's a big deal, that's not chump change, it's a lot of money," Brailsford said.
The Brailsfords decided to pay the town what their taxes would be with the homestead exemption and this went on for more than two years.
The tax assessor sent out seven letters to the couple as reminders to get a utility bill in Melissa's name.
Both were digging in their heels and not budging.
But now the stakes are high. The town is putting the Brailsfords home up for a tax sale - the bill $6,184.
"It doesn't make sense to me why this would carry on. What is the point of denying a resident an exemption they deserve?" Greg Brailsford said.
Tax Assessor Janesse Muscatelli said in a statement, "My daily objective is to be fair, consistent, and equitable with every resident. I have not asked Mrs. Brailsford to do anything differently than any other resident in this situation."
Mayor Charles Lombardi told NBC 10 he's sticking by his tax assessor's decision.
"We're looking for a document and someone is saying, 'Hey, look, I'm just not going to do it,'" he said.
The tax sale is set for May 1.
Meanwhile, the Brailsfords have put their home up for sale. They just simply don't want to live in North Providence anymore.