Carcieri, Town Disagree Over Back Taxes On Olney House
The former governor and his wife want to turn the Church Street building into a science center but after more than 10 years of relative inaction, the town is getting frustrated.
According to former Governor Donald Carcieri, there's been a misunderstanding with the town's tax assessor over a back tax bill on the Olney House, the building on Church Street the Carcieris bought from the town in 2002 for $1 with the idea of creating a children's science center.
The Olney House is scheduled go up for tax sale this year because of an outstanding bill of $15,000 in back property taxes, according to EG Tax Assessor Janice Peixinho.
"The town was going to demolish it," Carcieri said in a phone interview earlier this month to explain why he and his wife Sue bought the building. The Carcieris are in Florida until early April. Lifelong East Greenwich residents, they moved to North Kingstown three years ago.
The Olney House was a boy’s dormitory when the East Greenwich Academy served as the high school for the region and the state. The Academy, founded in 1802, closed in 1943. The Carcieris' parents went to school there and Nicola Carcieri, Donald's father, taught there.
Carcieri said they had no intention of paying the back taxes, since the building is on public land. While the Carcieris bought the Olney House, they did not buy the land it sits on. The town owns the land and gave them a 50-year lease.
"We can only use the building as a science center," he said, noting they moving forward in their attempt to make that happen.
"If you haven't switched kids on to science by middle school, it's probably not going to happen," Carcieri said to explain why they want to create a science center for elementary-age children. He and Sue – a former science teacher – envision a center open after school that would focus on rotating topics through different exhibits. "It would compliment what they're doing at school," he said.
Right now, the walls of the Olney House are down to the studs and the floors aren't completed.
"We've been in the process of putting it back together," Carcieri said. Lead paint and asbestos have been removed and they put on a new roof. He said they were hoping to get the electrical system installed soon, as well as an alarm system.
Town Manager Bill Sequino defended his tax assessor's decision to place the building on the tax rolls. "He owns the house," Sequino said. "The house is not public."
From the town's point of view, the Carcieris have had more than a decade to make something of the building.
"I think the idea is, if he's going to do it, he should do it," Sequino said. "We've got other potential uses for that property."
The building is not registered as a non-profit, which would make it exempt from property taxes. Nonetheless, it was not placed on the tax rolls until 2011 because Carcieri served as governor from 2003 to 2011 and the town decided to hold off during those years.
Carcieri acknowledges the town's frustration. "I think they were a little concerned because they didn't see much happening," he said.
He said they hope to hold an open house "in the spring," to spur community interest.