Top Lincoln Official Uses Job to Avoid Taxes
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Frank Sylvester, the fire chief for the Lime Rock Fire District in Lincoln, registered two of his personal cars in Lincoln this year— a 2007 Lexus and a 2006 Ford Explorer. The tax rate on cars in Lincoln is $30.66 per $1,000 of the assessed value—compared to a rate of $53.30 in Pawtucket, which is the second-highest one in Rhode Island.
Sylvester paid a total of $1,245.56 in taxes on those cars to Lincoln, according to town tax records obtained by GoLocalProv. Had he paid taxes on those cars at the Pawtucket rate, he would have owed nearly $900 more in taxes, or $2,122.67 to be exact.
In 2009, Sylvester registered a third car in Lincoln—a 2003 Ford T-bird. In fact, tax records show that he has been registering one or more of his cars in Lincoln at least since 2004. And he has admitted to GoLocalProv that he has been registering his cars at his workplace since he became fire chief in 1988.
Group Claims Fire Chief Is Breaking the Law
A local taxpayer advocate says Sylvester should not be using public property for his personal benefit. “Obviously, the fire station is public property and he has no business registering his vehicles there,” said John Cullen, a member of the Lime Rock Taxpayer Group. “It’s a character issue. It goes to a public servant abusing his power and the Lime Rock commissioners aiding and abetting this misbehavior and possible illegal behavior.”
But Sylvester said his actions were legal. He said he checked with the enforcement division of the DMV just to make sure.
State law says that owners of cars must pay taxes in the town where they permanently live, unless “a vehicle or trailer is customarily kept in some other town or city.” Marcy Coleman, an attorney for the DMV, said that exception could apply to Sylvester.
Sylvester OK with Registering His Cars in Pawtucket
Sylvester told GoLocalProv he does not believe he is doing anything wrong. But if he were, he would be happy to register his cars in Pawtucket. “If it’s not right, I’ll change it, but it’s not against the law,” Sylvester said. “I’m not breaking any law.”
He said he started registering his cars at the fire station when he first started out as fire chief because he was using them to plow the driveway around the station. He continues to register the cars there, even though he stopped handling the plowing several years ago.
Each year, he said he typically registers two of his cars there—one for the winter and one for the summer. He uses a town-issued car to drive to and from work. That allows him to go to an after-hours fire in an official Fire Department car, instead of using his own—which is better for insurance purposes, according to Sylvester.
Sylvester said he was not sure if other fire chiefs in Rhode Island did the same thing.
He accused the taxpayer group of bringing up the issue to rile up voters in advance of the annual meeting of voters in the fire district, which is in October.
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