Some Concord properties haven’t been assessed since 1990
There are some properties in the city of Concord that have not been assessed since 1990.
That’s 24 years to gain or lose value.
But records on those properties haven’t been updated because the assessing department has no way to do so, the board reported to the city council this week.
George Hildrum, chairman of the Board of Assessors, told the council that shortfall in data is the reason for a second year of record-high abatement requests. He asked the council to consider doing a full measure and list of properties.
“I think it’s fair to say the biggest problem we have recognized as a board is oftentimes our data. . . . We would recommend that over the next five years that we develop a program that will allow the assessing office to go through every property in the city to make sure we have the right information,” Hildrum said.
For the 2012 tax year, Concord received 356 requests for abatement – a much greater number than the typical 200 to 250. To date for the 2012 tax year, Deputy City Manager for Finance Brian LeBrun said the city has paid out nearly $789,000 to taxpayers who challenged their property assessments – in addition to $1 million of a $1.6 million settlement with Steeplegate Mall over its property value.
That number does not include any future payments that could be made on 70 appeals still pending with the state Board of Tax and Land Appeals or in superior court. Of the 84 cases filed in both of those places, 14 have already been withdrawn, settled and/or dismissed.
“This is everything that’s been settled and paid,” LeBrun said.
In its report, the board outlined several recommendations to avoid so many requests in the future.
Among those recommendations was a full measure and list, or a new citywide inspection and assessment of all properties in the city, to be conducted over the next five years, which Hildrum told the council has not been done since 1990. Currently, the department is only able to update property information on a case-by-case basis, such as when an owner applies for a building permit, requests an inspection or volunteers information about his or her property.
He suggested all commercial properties be assessed in the first year – approximately 300 of the 356 abatement applications came from commercial or industrial properties – and the rest be completed gradually over the next four years.
Other suggestions to the council included:
∎ Requiring “as-built” plans to be submitted for all commercial and industrial properties to help determine building size, property use and whether the property has been fully developed.
∎ Strengthening the requirements for a building permit or asking property owners to fill out annual inventory forms.
∎ Supporting legislation that would require commercial property owners to submit income and expense information when requested by the city.
∎ Supporting legislation that would negate a property owner’s right to appeal a property’s value if he or she refused a full inspection of that property.
The council voted to accept the report, but that doesn’t mean any of its recommendations will be adopted any time soon. City Manager Tom Aspell said some of the recommendations could be considered by the council later on or referred to the Fiscal Policy Advisory Committee.
“In the future, yes,” Aspell said. “In the near future, no.”
There’s no easy fix to get Concord residents to update their property information more often, he said.
“It’s one of those things that there’s no simple solution,” Aspell said.
The department is already trying to improve some of its results. The city will send out alert notices to give a heads-up to property owners whose assessments are increasing by 20 percent or $50,000, so any errors can be corrected early on.
In the meantime, Kathy Temchack, the city’s director of real estate assessments, is trying to stay on top of data with a small staff. Temchack said her department only has three workers who do inspections on the city’s properties to update their value.
“The information needs to be accurate, and . . . the reality is when you do an inspection of a property, whatever we see at the minute is what’s valid for that minute,” Temchack said. “We could walk out the door and somebody could gut the place and redo the whole thing, and our information that was relevant for that period of time is now outdated.”
The city would need to hire more staff for her department to do a full measure and list of the city’s properties, Temchack said, or it could contract the work to an outside company.
Board member Guy Petell agreed the department doesn’t have the resources to inspect all the city’s properties now.
“I don’t think there’s any way you could do a full measure and list with the personnel we have there now,” Petell said. “I think that would be impossible.”
Petell is now retired, but he used to work as the director of the state Department of Revenue Administration’s property appraisal division. He said most New Hampshire cities appraise all their properties every 10 to 12 years.
“We feel like it’s time that (Concord) stepped up,” he said.
No matter how it happens, both the board and Temchack want that full measure and list of the city’s properties to happen soon.
“The sole purpose of what we do here ultimately goes back to everyone paying their fair share based on the value of their property,” Temchack said. “I don’t want to be over-assessing people, and I don’t want to be under-assessing people.”
(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)