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 firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)