Selectmen: Ossipee Lakefront Residents Must Go Through Abatement Process

Ossipee — December 8, 2005 — Lakefront homeowners, upset that soaring land assessments are driving tax bills out of reach of some retirees, were told Monday to apply for tax abatements.

Selectmen said they would sit down with the homeowners and talk over the troubling property tax phenomenon striking at Long Sands Road on Ossipee Lake. Skyrocketing waterfront values — lots are up fivefold since 2001 — caused some older, full-time residents, who said they are unable to afford property taxes, to sell.

The board did not grant the homeowners’ request for a special revaluation of their 28-home neighborhood, leaving some to complain of inconsistent treatment.

“All I want is consistency,” said George Eisener, an 80-year-old contractor who says he still builds homes to afford taxes on his half-acre lot. It’s valued in this year’s reassessment at $660,000, roughly twice what it was last year.

Eisener and others on Long Sands road asked the board last week for the special revaluation, after they say selectmen, once before in 1998, reassessed only their street and no others in town based on two homes that sold over assessed values.

To bolster their case, Eisener and several neighbors, including a working 70-year-old grandmother, Jean Hansen, presented the board with recent sales data showing five properties on the street selling below their assessments since June.

Hansen said one of the five is under contract for $650,000, which is $16,500 under the assessed value of the land alone, and $153,500 under the $803,500 total combined assessed value of the land and buildings.

The $153,500 discrepancy eclipses the assessed value of the home itself, listed by the town at $121,300. The property is also assessed another $15,700 in “Feature Values,” the report says.

Discrepancies on the five sales range from $6,000 on an unbuildable waterfront lot to the $153,500 on the home just recently sent under contract by a child of its former owner. After inheriting the home from her father, the daughter couldn’t keep up the tax payments, Hansen said.

“We’re all worried about that,” she said. “How can we pass this on to our kids?”

Hansen’s report showed one home sold over its assessed value by $26,700, and others selling under by $28,800, $67,300 and $38,800.

After meeting with selectmen Monday, Eisener called the board’s decision not to reassess, “typical politics,” and said he may appeal to the state.

Selectman Harry Merrow, who says he is sympathetic to their situation, suggested Eisener petition the state land board. He has said as long as homes continue to sell at increasingly high prices on Ossipee Lake, assessments will continue to rise.

Selectmen made the decision not to reassess the street based on a recommendation from the assessor, who said the abatement process will be “fair and equal to all,” according to an internal town hall memo.

“Neighborhoods should not be singled out for review without the property owner following procedure prescribed by state law,” the memo said.

The abatement applications are due on March 1, 2006.

Hansen’s sales data also point to a shift in the traditional balance between lot values, and the houses built on top of them.

As the 100-by-200-foot lots on Long Sands Road continue to grow more valuable, the houses there are rising in value far less sharply, Hansen said. Homes on the properties in her report are valued by the town between $143,200 and $103,300. The corresponding lots are all roughly $660,000.

Eisener, who has built homes for 50 years, says the trend has thrown the conventional ratio “out of whack.”

“It’s the land going up,” he said. “When you’ve got a lot that is worth $200,000, you put up a house that is worth $200,000. That’s worth $400,000.

“For $650,000 you couldn’t even fit that kind of house on these lots,” he said.

While some would be tickled to earn a $300,000 capital gain on their home in two years, and welcome the potential for a bonanza sales profit, Eisener and Hansen don’t want to sell.

Eisener said he bought his lot in 1958 for $2,500. He wants to pass it on to his son, but he said his son can’t afford the taxes.

The board on Monday corrected assessments in another neighborhood on the Elm Street extension. Merrow said the town incorrectly calculated lot measurements, causing land to be assessed on larger than actual lot sizes. Eight or nine homeowners will see between a $500 and $1,000 drop in their tax payments, selectmen said.

Merrow said the problem there differed substantially from Long Sands Road, where Eisener and others were not immediately given tax reductions, or guarantees, and will need to follow formal abatement procedures.

Elm Street was clearly the town’s fault, and corrections were based on the town fixing its own measurement errors, he said.

They were based “not on appraised value, but on dimensions,” Merrow said. “This was a computer error … our in-house fault.”

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