Boston revokes Bump tax exemption

Says condominium not principal residence

FOCUS ON CAMPAIGN Suzanne M. Bump said she is happy the property tax issue has been resolved and that she can focus on her tight race for the state auditor’s post. FOCUS ON CAMPAIGN
Suzanne M. Bump said she is happy the property tax issue has been resolved and that she can focus on her tight race for the state auditor’s post.
By Peter Schworm
Globe Staff / October 9, 2010

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Boston officials determined yesterday that Suzanne M. Bump, the Democratic candidate for state auditor, was not entitled to four years of tax breaks she received by reporting her South Boston condominium as her principal residence and accepted the $5,875.05 repayment she made Thursday after the discrepancy came to light.

The Globe had reported that day that Bump and her husband, Paul F. McDevitt, had been receiving residential tax breaks on homes in both Boston and Great Barrington by reporting each as their principal residence.

In response to the story, Bump said the dual exemptions were “legal and appropriate,’’ but asked Boston’s Assessing Department to review whether she was entitled to the tax break, which had cut her Boston property taxes by nearly half. While awaiting the city’s decision, she repaid the amount she would have owed without the exemption.

Ronald W. Rakow, Boston’s commissioner of assessing, determined that the South Boston home is not Bump’s principal residence and removed the exemption.

In a letter yesterday to Bump, Rakow said the department had confirmed that Bump and her husband were registered to vote in Great Barrington, a small town in the southwest corner of the state, and had registered their motor vehicles there.

“Finally, we have noted on your campaign website a statement indicating that you and your husband reside at the property in Great Barrington, but spend your work week in Boston,’’ Rakow wrote. As a result, he said, the city would accept the repayment.

Bump, the state’s secretary of labor and economic development from 2007 until late last year, had used the Boston address to file her state tax returns, which qualified her for the residential exemption. But in his ruling, Rakow cited a decision issued last year by the Appellate Tax Board, which said that “an analysis of all the facts and circumstances present in each case’’ was necessary to determine someone’s principal residence.

Rakow declined comment beyond the letter.

Bump, who is locked in a close race for auditor with Republican candidate Mary Z. Connaughton, said her initial filing for the residential exemption in 2007 preceded that ruling. At the time, the address used to file state tax returns was the only factor in eligibility mentioned on the application, she said.

“I have today received notification from the city that, while the only factor referenced on the forms that my husband and I completed when we applied for the exemption in 2007 was where we file our income taxes, an Appellate Tax Board case in 2009 determined that the city must look at a wider range of facts and circumstances in each case,’’ Bump said in a statement.

“I am pleased that this matter has been resolved and look forward to focusing my full attention again on the substantive issues in the race for state auditor,’’ she added, thanking the Assessing Department for “their prompt response to my request for a review of my residential tax exemption.’’

A spokesman for Bump’s campaign declined further comment yesterday.

Connaughton said that “all taxpayers should be paying their fair share,’’ but said she was focusing on making her own case to voters.

“I’m not as concerned with her issues as I am with running my own campaign, staying on a positive note,’’ she said. “I choose to talk about why I’m qualified and would make a terrific auditor, and that’s my focus.’’

Bump has previously said she had received verbal confirmation from assessors in both Boston and Great Barrington that the tax breaks were legal, but said she would request a ruling “in an abundance of caution.’’

The state Revenue Department says taxpayers cannot claim residential status in more than one community to receive multiple tax breaks. Bump had acknowledged that she and her husband did not tell Boston officials they were already receiving a tax break in Great Barrington that is reserved for full-time residents. The Boston tax exemption is meant for those whose Boston property is their principal residence.

In a previous interview, Bump described the Great Barrington home as her principal residence, even though she had also sought the Boston tax exemption by reporting the South Boston condo as her principal residence.

Peter Schworm can be reached