My Turn: A windfall for utilities at taxpayers’ expense

For the Monitor
Published: 10/15/2017 12:15:09 AM

A bill before the New Hampshire House of Representatives seeks to streamline the process of determining the value of utility properties in the state by using one formula applied to all properties in all towns and cities. Utilities claim individual municipalities have different ways of determining the value of properties for tax purposes, which in many cases they believe overvalues them. The result is constant litigation between towns and utilities.

Under New Hampshire state law, all these properties are to be appraised at “fair market value.” House Bill 324 throws that out the window. Instead, one unelected individual at the Department of Revenue Administration will determine the value of all utility properties in the state by using their own formula, which incidentally values the vast majority of these properties at much less than they are now appraised, resulting in an enormous windfall to the utilities and their bottom line.

If approved, the result would have a devastating impact on towns in the state, specifically the North Country. This is not hyperbole. Several of the most valuable properties in New Hampshire are located in the North Country. They include Moore Dam Station in Littleton, Comerford Dam in Monroe and the Great Lakes Hydro Dams in Berlin and Gorham. Under this formula, Littleton’s tax rate would increase over $5 per thousand, which translates into a 20 percent increase in each property taxpayer’s bill. On a $200,000 home that would be an increase of more than $1,000 a year. Likewise, Berlin taxpayers would see an increase of more than $10 per thousand, which would slap the taxpayer with an additional $2,000 a year on a $200,000 home. Similarly, Gorham taxpayers would pay almost $900 more annually, and Monroe an additional $1,252 a year.

The utilities claim that by having one formula, ratepayers will see a decrease in their electric bills. If that’s the case, then why won’t they come out and say how much a household will save? They have not provided that information, but some believe it may be somewhere around $2 a month. That’s nothing compared to a property tax increase of between $1,000 and $2,000 or more a year for the economically challenged households of the North Country.

Finally, the flawed formula that the DRA would use has been rejected by the New Hampshire Board of Tax and Land Appeals and ultimately by the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

HB 324 attempts to address an issue brought by utility companies, but the impact of this legislation passing would crush communities and provide a huge windfall to power companies. This bill needs to be defeated.

(Brad Bailey of Monroe represents Grafton District 14 in the New Hampshire House of Representatives.)

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