Keene official: Housing market trends expected to drive values up, tax rate down

Keene Sentinel
Published: 9/20/2021 6:41:23 PM

The city of Keene is gearing up for its regular five-year revaluation, and given the rising cost of homes in the past year or so, property owners can expect their assessments to increase.

However, City Assessor Dan Langille said Thursday that while property values are expected to go up, this would cause Keene’s tax rate to dip due to the additional revenue coming in. He, along with a pair of representatives from Vision Government Solutions, gave the City Council a presentation that night on the revaluation process.

“What we’re seeing is a significant increase in taxable value for the city,” Langille said. “And as a result, we’re going to see a decrease in the tax rate. At this time, we do not know what that rate will be; that’s determined in the fall by the New Hampshire Department of Revenue.”

The city’s tax rate determines the amount taxpayers must pay based on the assessed value of their property. The values the city sets will be based on properties’ condition as of April 1, Langille said.

The city’s last reassessment, required every five years by state law, was in 2016, when the U.S. economy was on the tail end of its recovery from the 2008 recession, according to Langille. But since 2020, housing costs have begun to skyrocket, leaving Keene’s property values outdated.

According to Sandra Schmucki of Vision Government Solutions, which is working with the city on the reassessment, the process of collecting data that will be used to determine property values is already underway. This includes examining how much homes in Keene have recently sold for.

“We look at all the properties in the town and compare what we found to the sales,” she said. “We want to make sure that we’re assessing everything in a fair and consistent manner. And so, based on how the sales are looking, we make sure that all the other properties that are not sales are being assessed in the same manner.”

There are several benefits to doing a citywide reassessment, Schmucki said, including that the assessment puts taxpayers on a level playing field and adjusts for changes in the real estate market. While the city can easily collect information about the outside of a property, Schmucki said interior information is being reviewed over the phone or at the front door, due to COVID-19 concerns.

Steve Whalen, also of Vision Government Solutions, said next steps include sending notification to property taxpayers about the upcoming reassessment; these notifications should be sent sometime this week, he said.

Councilors had a number of questions, with Councilor Gladys Johnsen asking what role the pandemic is playing in the city’s revaluation process. Schmucki said it is hard to quantify exactly how much COVID-19 has affected housing values, but that this is part of what the city is trying to determine by studying Keene’s current housing market.

Meanwhile, Councilor Randy Filiault asserted that the city is owed more money from the state than what it’s been receiving, including from the meals and rooms tax, as well as pensions and business profit taxes. He said the revenue the city collects from taxes is reaching “an unsustainable level.”

“We’ve maxed out our taxpayers in this city,” he said.

Councilor Bettina Chadbourne said many houses in Keene are being sold to out-of-towners who can afford to pay more than those who are already living in the city. She worried this might drive up property values in an unsustainable way, particularly when Keene is actively marketing itself to attract new people.

On the other hand, Councilor Philip Jones said it’s long been the goal for the city’s commercial property owners to be the biggest part of the tax base. But he said there are a number of vacant commercial spaces in town, “switching the burden” to residential taxpayers, and it’s something the council needs to keep an eye on.

“You guys are picking up on some of the flaws in the property-tax system in New Hampshire,” Langille said in response to the concerns raised by Jones and Chadbourne. “As assessors, our job really is [to be) more of a historian. We’re recording what the market’s doing ... but there’s certainly flaws in the system.”

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