Feeling taxed out in Concord: ‘This is how people end up homeless’

April Stoddard peers out of her kitchen window of her home on Juniper Lane in Concord on Thursday, Nov. 30.

April Stoddard peers out of her kitchen window of her home on Juniper Lane in Concord on Thursday, Nov. 30. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

April Stoddard peers out of her kitchen window of her home on Juniper Lane in Concord on Thursday, November 30, 2023.

April Stoddard peers out of her kitchen window of her home on Juniper Lane in Concord on Thursday, November 30, 2023. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

April Stoddard’€™s home on Juniper Lane in Concord on Thursday, November 30, 2023.

April Stoddard’€™s home on Juniper Lane in Concord on Thursday, November 30, 2023. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

By MICHAELA TOWFIGHI

Monitor staff

Published: 12-02-2023 4:20 PM

April Stoddard knew she’d be trading Florida’s warmth for Concord’s winters when she moved back to Concord. What she didn’t expect was the dramatic increase in her property tax bill for the single-wide, 900-square-foot manufactured home she purchased.

When Stoddard purchased her home in 2021, it was assessed at $51,000. After the sale, the city reassessed the property at $79,200. In two years, her property tax bill increased by 55%.

“The cost of living now, with fuel and food and gas… I’m at an age where I’m on a fixed income,” she said. “Are they trying to get all of us out?”

She lives alone, with Christmas decorations on her kitchen table and a wreath hanging in the window. Along her kitchen walls, wallpaper mimics exposed brick and on an afternoon at home alone, the hum of cable news fills the silence in the living room.

On that TV, Stoddard listens to news segments about inflation and the cost of living. But she doesn’t need a national anchor to spell it out for her. She feels it daily when she shops at the grocery store or Walmart and every time her property tax bill comes in the mail, higher than the previous year.

Stoddard is not alone.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

One last plea to save historic home: Norris House on Main Street due to be torn down soon
Opinion: Our first Virginia winter? How climate change has impacted NH
Hometown Heroes: Concord man turns playing fields into safe haven for New Americans
East Concord’s Mobil still offers full-service fuel
In a big blow, Spirit Airlines is ending flights from Manchester airport
A mother, a sister and her fight for a better life

Along with the rising assessments, the city’s tax rate has also increased. In 2021, the total tax rate in Concord was $25.12. It increased to $25.89 in 2022, and the newest rate, set last week, adds almost another $1, bringing it to $26.86.

In other words, if you own a home worth $300,000, your tax bill has gone up more than $500 in two years, not counting any increase in property values.

Going up

In 2021 when Stoddard purchased her single-wide, two-bedroom, home, it needed work. She added insulation and metal siding. The window in the front that looks out over her kitchen was replaced and she also insulated the floors.

Stoddard’s home was one of 30 chosen by the city in 2021 for a presentation by Kathryn Temchack, the city’s Director of Real Estate Assessments, which explained how new property assessments affected residents’ tax bills. Each of these homes was sold between April 2019 and September 2021.

In the presentation, Temchack explained that when the value of taxable property had increased in the city – as it did in 2021 – the tax rate was lowered. In 2020, the rate was $26.68 and was brought down to $25.12 for 2021.

However, that decrease in the tax rate did not mean homeowners saved on their tax bills. Rising assessments meant most homeowners still paid more. In some cases, a lot more.

The average tax increase on these 30 properties since 2020, which ranged in value from $50,000 to $600,000 has been 15%, according to a Monitor analysis of 2023 assessment values and tax bills.

Since 2021, tax bills have gone up citywide, including these properties, by 7%.

A home on Plymouth Drive near Beaver Meadow Golf Course worth $367,000 is paying almost $10,000 a year in taxes: $680 more in just two years, despite a stagnant assessment.

A home valued at $540,000 on Auburn Street is paying $14,526 a year in taxes now: $1,099 more than two years ago, an 8% increase.

In Penacook, where the overall tax rate is higher at $29.15, residents saw rates remain flat for 2023 due to a decrease in the school tax.

Members of Concord’s City Council are bound by the same trend. If their assessments remained the same, they saw a 7% increase in taxes in the last two years.

The two outliers were Brent Todd, whose assessment on his Penacook home increased by $58,000 leading to a 17% tax increase, and Mayor-Elect Byron Champlin, whose assessment went down in the last two years. He now pays $100 less than he did two years ago, a 2% decrease to his tax bill.

By state law, a municipality assesses taxable property based on the market value. In Concord, valuations are determined by inspecting sold properties and analyzing qualified sales and commercial properties.

The changes from this analysis are then applied to every property in the city, according to Temchack.

But that doesn’t mean that the property tax burden is uniform. It hits hardest on retired homeowners like Stoddard whose fixed income at age 75 does not keep pace with city increases.

“I’m fortunate all I have is me,” she said. “I mean, what are these people [to] do with families? I can’t imagine bringing your child up in this world today, with the economy and what goes on, it’s crazy.”

City spending

Stoddard is quick to answer when asked what’s to blame for the rising tax rate.

She cited the Beaver Meadow clubhouse, Rundlett Middle School and Memorial Field – three multi-million dollar projects coming down the pipeline in Concord where taxpayers, like herself, will foot the bill.

They’re all the product of deferred maintenance – the antithesis of what a homeowner would do, she said. Decrepit to the point where complete reconstruction is more favorable than renovation.

It’s hard for Stoddard to wrap her head around these proposals. She thinks of her car in the driveway. Spending a little bit here and there on preventive maintenance, with annual service checks and oil changes, has extended its life and eliminated the need to get a new vehicle.

If approved, she fears how the trio of projects will impact tax bills. She knows that the brunt of these costs will fall on property owners.

As taxes go up, Stoddard has less money for all of her other expenses. She wonders if she’ll be able to keep her home if the trend continues.

“This is a mobile home,” Stoddard said. “It’s not like it’s the Taj Mahal.”

It would be one thing if the city cut spending from somewhere else to pay for these other projects, just like homeowners have to do to stay within a budget, she said. Instead, it’s a tsunami of spending that she’d never consider with her own home.

“I have to do a project every couple of years, never mind three in a row. Unless it’s buying curtains, I usually can do that,” she said. “It’s very disheartening. So many people are struggling now, what is going to happen? This is how people end up homeless.”