Downtown: Building permits slowed in 2017; leaf collection; new city mouthpiece

  • A table shows Concord’s building permit activity from 2007-17. Courtesy of the city of Concord

Monitor staff
Monday, April 16, 2018

To hear city officials tell it, a new chapter in Concord’s economic development history has begun.

We certainly saw evidence of that on Thursday, when the mayor and city manager detailed ways in which the city is thriving: In 2017, downtown storefront vacancy dropped, the amount of market-rate housing was up (with more on the way), and Main Street’s overall property value increased.

But with new chapters come new challenges, and there is a classic indicator of economic health that is down in the city, although the reason isn’t so cut and dried. According to a February report written by Carlos Baia, the city’s deputy city manager of development, the city saw 429 building permits last year, a decrease of 58.

Not a precipitous drop, but that decrease was coupled with a total permit value decrease of $44.4 million, down from $101.4 million in 2016. There was also a decrease in added taxable property, going from a new tax base growth of $43.2 million in 2016 to $25.3 million in 2017. There was an increase, but not one that helps the city’s revenue streams – the amount of tax-exempt property went from $58.1 million in 2016 to $31.6 million in 2017.

Not to mention the state finally made good last year on a 2012 interpretation of RSA 155-A:4, which governs what kinds of building projects need a permit.

It used to be that whoever wanted to build needed a permit from the municipality. However, thanks to House Bill 137-FN (2012), the authority to issue permits for and inspect state building projects, including the community and university college system of New Hampshire, was shifted to the state’s fire marshal.

For the city that holds the heart of the state’s government and already has the highest proportion of tax-exempt property – in 2017, 28 percent of Concord’s total property was tax exempt, compared with Manchester’s 14 percent, Nashua’s 10 percent and Portsmouth’s 12 percent, Mayor Jim Bouley said – that loss of revenue could hurt.

“The State’s new position will, undoubtedly, result in a significant loss in building permit revenue going forward,” Baia wrote.

But Baia said in a recent interview that the situation isn’t necessarily dire, but it is something to watch.

“I don’t think the numbers we’ve got really note the impact from that change,” Baia said. “But it highlights the revenue concern for our community, and we need to be aware there’s going to be an adjustment. With state permits, we would sometimes get over hundreds of thousands of permit value that’s paid into the city. ... It’s a revenue stream that’s critical to the city.”

The city has few streams of revenue, with property taxes making up the lion’s share at about 60 percent and motor vehicle registrations at 10 percent, Baia said.

Building permits are typically a good indicator of how the economy is doing, Baia said. For instance, when you look at the difference between the city’s 2007, 2008 and 2009 building permits and taxable property, you can clearly see the effects the recession had on growth.

In 2007, the city had 590 building permits worth $90.5 million, for a total added tax base of $67.1 million; in 2008, there were 522 permits worth $64.7 million, with a new tax base growth of $46 million. In 2009, 465 permits worth $35 million were approved, and the tax base grew by $29 million.

Those numbers are primarily driven by what kinds of projects are going on in the city, Baia said. Your basement renovation is part of it, sure, but if there’s a major project coming online, that will affect the total permit value the city sees as revenue that year.

For instance, in 2010, there was a spike in total permit value – despite having only 472 permits, the total value of those permits was $78.2 million. It’s possible a big project approved that year affected those numbers.

The same idea goes for changes in the amount of added tax-exempt property, Baia said.

Spring leaf collection

The city will be starting its spring leaf collection route next week.

Much like its fall counterpart, any leaves, grass, hedge trimmings, mulch, pine needles and cones must be curbside by 7 a.m. on your street’s projected pickup day. Unlike the fall collection, the city will be picking up debris once a week in coordination with curbside trash and recycling services over the next six weeks.

Any debris should be in biodegradable yard waste bags or labeled rigid containers; leaves cannot be loose.

The collection will occur from April 23 to June 2.

No trash, sand, dirt, rocks, bricks, plastic, metal, wood, masonry, animal waste or brush will be accepted.

Residents who do not have curbside collection can bring leaves to Gelinas Excavation & Earth Materials Recycling Center at 10 Intervale Road, which opens for the season Monday.

Information distribution

Concord’s new public information officer started work last Monday.

Stephanie Phillips was previously the director of communications for the New Hampshire and Vermont chapters of the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association. Before that, she worked as an account executive with the public relations firm of Louis Karno & Co., according to the city manager’s newsletter.

A graduate of Plymouth State University and Northeastern University, Phillips lives in the Concord area. Her salary is $63,772.

The role was originally offered to Adam Wolfe, the public relations director for Navajo County, Ariz. Wolfe was unable to take the role, however, due to a family emergency, said Concord City Manager Tom Aspell.

Editor’s note: This story was changed to reflect that leaf collection runs from April 23 to June 2.

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, candrews@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)