Hopkinton State Fair Association loses $15,000 tax break after selectmen vote not to renew agreement
The Hopkinton State Fair Association isn’t being a good neighbor – and that cost the nonprofit a $15,000 tax break it has received from the town in years past, the selectmen have decided.
Under what’s called a PILOT agreement, the fair association has been paying the town $31,000 per year in lieu of taxes for the last seven years. According to minutes from a July 15 selectmen’s meeting, the assessed value of the fair association totals $1,555,300. Without this agreement, the association would be paying the town about $46,000 per year under the current tax rate.
That five-year agreement expired in 2011, and the fair association has continued to make the same payment the past two years while trying to renegotiate its tax contributions with the town.
When the Hopkinton Board of Selectmen revisited the issue Monday night, the fair association couldn’t persuade members to renew that agreement. The board voted unanimously against continuing that PILOT in 2014 – meaning the fair association will have to pay its full taxes this year.
Selectmen Chairman Jim O’Brien said the fair association met with the board this summer, hoping to renew its tax agreement and continue paying the same amount – no more, but also no less. But the town questioned whether the fair association, which is a nonprofit but operates like many local businesses, brings added benefit deserving of a tax benefit those businesses do not receive.
The board heard from a handful of residents during the meeting – and O’Brien said none of them felt the fair association should receive such a significant tax break.
“I think many people in the town didn’t feel at this point that there were enough benefits accrued to the town from the fair operations for the town’s taxpayers to be subsidizing the fair’s operations,” O’Brien said.
Hopkinton residents complained of less and less local connection between the fair and the town, O’Brien said.
He also said none of the members of the fair association’s board live in Hopkinton anymore.
“A lot of people in town who had direct involvement with the fair felt built-up – resentment, I think, isn’t the right word – but the feeling that things have changed, and not for the better,” O’Brien said.
George Saunderson, a member of the Hopkinton State Fair Association board, declined to comment. But O’Brien said the selectmen and members of the fair association board did come to one agreement – the fair’s board members need to up their communications with the town.
“I think right now there is a public relations problem that the fair has with the town of Hopkinton,” O’Brien said. “And I think the board is working with them to resolve that. I think it’s going to take a real structured dialogue to get over what are some pretty strong feelings from people in the town.”
Dan Houston, a longtime resident of Hopkinton, showed his family’s cattle at the fair when he was a teenager. Now 70, he attended Monday’s meeting to voice his concern about what he said is growing distance between the fair association and the town that has hosted the fair for almost 100 years.
“It’s been sort of a change in their attitude toward the town itself,” he said, “and we don’t see any indication up until this point that they really want to be part of the town and (be) cooperative with the town and do the good things of good citizens in this town.”
Houston remembers when most of the fair board members lived in town. Many, he said, were area farmers.
“They kept . . . very aligned with what the townsfolk were thinking,” he said. “In the past 10 or so years, the representation on the board certainly dwindled a lot.”
In years past, Houston said, the association used to allow much wider use of the fairgrounds. He once had permission to pass through the fairgrounds to volunteer at a neighboring baseball field, Houston said, but the board changed its locks and refused him access about five years ago. Now, he and other volunteers have to use a less-convenient route to the field.
And while the fairground opens for some public use, like high school cross country running and skiing or graduation, Houston said he feels the land should be more accessible as it was in years past.
“They lack goodwill toward the town,” he said.
Jacqueline Stock, a resident of Contoocook, said she attended the meeting as a concerned taxpayer, one who does not want to subsidize the fair’s operations.
“At some level, the community needs to benefit more from the fair association, whether it’s during the fair time or after, during the other 360 days, by them being better neighbors,” Stock said.
Stock is also a member of the Contoocook United Methodist Church, which hosted a food booth on the fairgrounds almost every year since the fair’s inception until 2011. Due to a dispute between the fair association and the church, that booth is no longer a part of the fair.
“There’s just a lack of concern for local involvement and local participation. . . . They have not necessarily been a good neighbor to the community,” Stock said.
O’Brien said the fair association and the town will now consider ways to engage each other more often, perhaps by inviting one of the selectmen to fair association board meetings.
“What really came out of the conversation we had was the real need for better lines of communication between the fair association and the town of Hopkinton and the board of selectmen. . . . We need to talk to each other, other than when we’re trying to negotiate a PILOT agreement,” O’Brien said.
(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)