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City processes tax abatements, tries to improve process

As many of Concord’s commercial property owners continue to fight their 2012 property assessments, city officials are tweaking the assessing process in hopes of avoiding a second year of record-high abatement requests.

The changes come after months of angry meetings between commercial property owners and the city’s assessing office and after 356 abatement requests. Typically, there are 200 to 250 abatement requests, said Kathryn Temchack, the city’s director of real estate assessments.

City Manager Tom Aspell said the city was reinstituting a practice of alerting property owners early if they’ve made no major changes to their properties but their assessments are increasing 20 percent or $50,000 anyway. Aspell said he hoped giving property owners a chance to correct any errors on their assessments before the values are sent to the state will reduce the number of formal abatement requests, which can be costly and time-consuming for property owners and the city.

Aspell said the Concord Board of Assessors has also begun meeting weekly rather than biweekly or less frequently in hopes of processing abatement requests more quickly. And at Aspell’s request, the board is holding its abatement hearings in a city hall conference room, instead of the city assessor’s office, to make the setting feel more neutral, he said.

“It was perceived as an unwelcoming atmosphere,” Aspell said.

Bobby Segal, chairman of the board of the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce, has met with Aspell several times to discuss the business community’s frustration with the 2012 assessments. That year, the overall assessed value for the city’s commercial and industrial properties increased 13.77 percent, the first overall increase since 2010. Total residential property assessments, which had increased in prior years, was down 2.64 percent from 2011 to 2012.

Segal’s family owns Sanel Auto Parts and saw assessments for two of its properties increase about 30 percent, he said.

Segal, who is appealing his 2012 assessment, is no less frustrated with what he and others believe was an inaccurate assessment approach last year. But he appreciates Aspell’s efforts to meet with business owners in hopes of improving the process going forward.

“That’s his whole methodology and I believe that,” Segal said of Aspell last week. “And I’m kind of a skeptical person. But he’s trying his best and I support him.”

The biggest of those changes will be the alert notices to property owners whose assessments are increasing by 20 percent or $50,000, whichever is lower. Aspell said the city used to send all property owners a “heads up” assessment card telling them the value of their assessment. Aspell said the city council discontinued that practice four or five years ago to save money. That same year, the council eliminated also nearly 40 positions, so no city expense was overlooked when the council set the budget, Aspell said.

The new assessment letters will go to a limited number of property owners but they will contain more information about the new assessment than the old cards did, Aspell said. The letters will show property owners what information the city has used to arrive at the new assessment. Some of that information is based on assumptions because oftentimes, Aspell said, property owners don’t allow the city’s assessors to come inside a property to verify building information.

“The letters will arrive early enough that the person and the city can work together more informally to correct mistakes before the city has to send its values to the state for a tax rate,” Aspell said. “Because, if they wait until then (to correct errors) the only means of challenging the abatement is a formal appeal, which can require hiring lawyers and assessors.”

Temchack said last week that the city has sent out 26 letters regarding the 2013 property assessments.

Meanwhile, the city has decided the abatement requests it received for 2012 but many appeals continue because nearly 80 property owners have appeals pending at court or before the state Board of Tax and Land Appeals, according to records provided by the city’s deputy solicitor, Danielle Pacik.

Temchack said the abatements awarded mostly reflect updated information about properties that the city did not have when it assessed the properties.

The city’s Board of Assessors, whose full list of abatements is at concordnh.gov under Board and Commissions, has approved several 2012 abatements, including these:

St. Paul’s School: $119,213

Dartmouth-Hitchcock properties on Pleasant Street: $59,717.

Lowe’s Home Center on Fort Eddy Road: $29,015.

Hillside View Apartments on Pleasant Street: $20,322.

Residence Inn at 91 Hall St.: $19,615.

Freedom Cycle on Manchester Street: $17,270.

257 Sheep Davis Road, a commercial property for sale: $13,462.

Lowe’s and St. Paul’s have also filed an appeal for the same properties with the state.

Concord Hospital, like Dartmouth-Hitchock, pays taxes on medical offices, and has also filed an abatement request. The result of that request was not on the board of assessor’s list and a call to the hospital was not returned.

Other property owners took their assessment appeals directly to court or to the state Board of Land and Tax Appeals. They include Capital Commons on Main Street; Demoulas Super Markets; Hodges Development Corp.; New Hampshire Historical Society; Steeplegate Mall; Pleasant View Retirement; and Walmart.

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

With the economy tanking the spending has to stop, plain and simple. When you over tax businesses, they have to make up the extra loss and that can only be absorbed in two ways....cost and labor. That means they can either raise prices to cover the cost or reduce labor to cover the cost. Many businesses run on a razor thin margin and in the case of a grocery store, for instance the profit is about 1-3% of sales. Restaurants about 9-12% of sales. I know that public officials think that business gross sales translates into high profit but in essence, it does not.

This is my understanding of the RSA that talks about appeals and allowing an assessor to inspect your property. While I haven't reviewed the RSA in a while, I hope my memory serves me well here. You have no obligation to let an assessor in your home or business. However... if you fill out information regarding your property that is false and the city believes it is false they can get an order to view your property. If it turns out you lied they can get triple the amount of the value you misreported. Also if you refuse to allow an assessor on your property you lose the right to appeal. Again a however.... the city has an obligation to record accurately what they believe the value of your property is. They can not add or make something up to punish you or force you to open up your property for inspection. I am sure there are others who have much more knowledge on this subject then I do and I would hope they would correct this post if it has any errors in it - Allan Herschlag

What is it with all these commercial property owners in Concord, of they have hired lunatic lawyers? Or are #___ or ___% of them doing their own applications and how many of them #____ have been appealed to the BTLA rather than #____ to the Merrimack County Superior Court? Of the B.T.L.A. members are appointed by the N.H. Supremes of by RSA Ch. 71-B:1 http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/rsa/html/V/71-B/71-B-mrg.htm and are supposed to "be learned and experienced in questions of TAXation OR of real estate valuation and appraisal OR of both " . Emphasis ADDed, because from my appeals to there of they shut their ears of allowing NO Settlement Meetings NOR any hearings on WHY these RSA Ch. 42:1 and 92:2 to Article 84 local officials like Kathryn Temchack can get away with RSA Ch. 643:1 "Official Oppression" billing for what be an un-lawful tax! See: per the Supreme Court case of 1997: http://www.courts.state.nh.us/supreme/opinions/1997/school.htm "The majority holds today that the present system of taxation to provide funding to meet this constitutional duty violates part II, article 5 of the State Constitution, because it is not reasonable or proportional. " nor wholesome! for this state-wide school tax for education, of these three members write that somehow because only (1) wrongful appraisal and (2) inability to pay based on poverty were (past tense) the only two "good reasons" used by others in history, of that that's what we are restricted to today! by their not quoting but entirely mis-reading of the Ansara v. Nashua, 118 N.H. 178 http://nh.findacase.com/research/wfrmDocViewer.aspx/xq/fac.19781220_0004.NH.htm/qx case. Maybe and hopefully one of these property owners can get their State Rep. to put into the process of to ask this question to the Supremes by Article 77 of is this a "good reason" too?, or maybe now the time for them to appoint a Receiver? to collect these unlawful over-payments and pay back to those of us who claim our rights without waiving such as like by the ex gratia payments of it cheaper to pay than to hire an attorney, of let them be re-paid last if ever as having thus N.H. Article 1 "consent"ed to the unlawful!

Article says most abatements were awarded due to missing property information and then notes many property owners don't allow access to verify information. I would say 3 attempts with "no return call warnings" would be sufficient to declare property access denial, after that the property owner should lose all rights to an appeal until the next normal assessment period. If that owner still files a law suit the property owner should be liable for all legal expenses a town incurs regardless of the outcome. In these cases the property owner 100% created the problem.

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