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State officials scramble to keep tax bills on time

State officials announced yesterday that end-of-year property tax bills won’t be delayed after all. If taxpayers aren’t celebrating the news, town and school officials are because it means they can pay the bills.

“A delay might have meant the towns would have had the expense of borrowing money” while waiting for delayed tax bills to be paid, said Mike Martin, superintendent of Merrimack Valley School District.

Local officials began raising concerns earlier this week when the state Department of Revenue Administration announced that a change in state law would prevent it from setting local tax rates until November – nearly a month later than it has in the past. That would have, in turn, delayed towns from issuing tax bills and, more importantly, from collecting tax payments.

“Our tax bills are usually in the mail before Halloween,” said Warner’s assessing clerk, Martha Mical. “Usually (payment) is due by the first of December, but we’d have to adjust that” if tax bills were delayed.

Warner’s budget assumes tax revenue will be available in December – not in January, and a delay could have left the town with a shortfall.

The trigger was a 2012 state law adopted without the governor’s signature that dictates how the state determines the amount of school aid each community receives.

In years past, the DRA calculated school aid by using school attendance numbers that were two years old. The new law requires the DRA to use attendance numbers from the prior school year – numbers the state Department of Education said it couldn’t deliver this year until Nov. 7. It usually has those numbers to revenue officials by early August.

John Beardmore, DRA commissioner, said concerns about a delay were raised during the legislative debate. And his office had been trying for weeks to avoid a delay, he said. Ultimately, the concern from local and state officials prompted education and revenue officials to reconvene this week and look for a solution.

Beardmore said the education department has agreed to get his office attendance numbers by next Friday. Doing so will allow his staff to set local tax rates as it always has.

Gov. Maggie Hassan’s office and the New Hampshire Municipal Association also worked on the resolution.

“We are pleased (education and revenue officials) have developed work-arounds to address the concerns raised by municipalities,” said William Hinkle of Hassan’s office in an email. “We will also be talking with them further about whether there are ways to improve the law.”

Sen. Nancy Stiles, a Hampton Republican who co-sponsored the 2012 law, said she has already offered to submit an amendment that will make it easier to estimate school aid earlier.

Asked how much concern his office heard from local and state officials, Beardmore said yesterday, “It was certainly enough to take another look at this.”

He added, “At the end of the day, it was helpful to take another look at this because we came to a better conclusion for everyone.”

(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323, atimmins@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)

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