Ossipee – February 10, 2010 — The first applications for tax relief are expected to be filed this month in response to the state’s controversial claim that it owns Ossipee Lake’s shorefront property up to 410 ft. above sea level.
Lake resident John Hardie said today he will file for an abatement for his home on Hodgson Shore. Hardie also said Westward Shores Campground, where he works, will file a similar appeal.
Both properties are in Ossipee, and the campground is one of the town’s biggest taxpayers.
Hardie said he will apply to the state’s Board of Tax and Land Appeals, which has the power to grant tax abatements under NH RSA 76:16-a. One or the provisions of the RSA allows claims to be made if a taxpayer believes his property’s assessed value exceeds its market value. In a phone interview, Hardie said that was the provision of the RSA that would be the basis of his claim.
“If the state owns part of my property, then it’s worth less than the current assessed value,” he said, adding that part of Westward Shores Campground is also under the 410 ft. benchmark.
Hardie and Westward Shores are two of many individuals and businesses in Ossipee and Freedom that are affected by what is being called the “410 Rule.”
By law, the state owns its lakes, the land beneath them and the surrounding shorefront property up to the “natural mean high water mark.” State officials say the high water benchmark for Ossipee Lake is 410 ft. above sea level, which is approximately three feet higher than the lake’s summer level.
At that level, many individuals and businesses who thought they had clear title to their property now find that the state legally owns part of it, and in some cases all of it.
Ossipee Lake Alliance and local elected officials convened a meeting of state officials in December at which representatives from DES and the Office of the State Attorney General confirmed the state’s land claim and the legal basis for it. But the officials could not say when the benchmark was set, who set it or what information was used to set it.
At the December meeting, DES official Rene Pelletier said the state would consider changing the number if local officials provided evidence that it was incorrect. State Representative Mark McConkey and Ossipee Selectman Harry Merrow met with the same officials two weeks ago to present evidence gathered to date, but did not come away with an agreement for a change.
DES did, however, agree to lower the state’s reference mark for permitting purposes to 407.25 ft. That means the agency will, in essence, consider approving private projects on state-owned property instead of automatically denying them.
It was DES’ denial of dredge and fill applications submitted by Westward Shores Campground and Ossipee Bluffs Association last year that led to the realization that the state’s claim on shorefront property was much greater than previously thought.
In messages to Ossipee Lake Alliance and in online comments, some residents say the 410 Rule has been applied inconsistently on the lake, which may be the reason it has not previously become a public issue. Over the years, they say, some septic systems and shorefront walls below 410 ft. have been approved and some have been denied.
Lake resident Hardie said DES approved an above-ground gas storage tank at Westward Shores around 2003 or 2004 on property that the state now claims it owns.
“That presents an interesting liability question,” he commented.
Tax Appeal Process
Comments posted by individuals on Ossipee Lake Alliance’s website have speculated about applying for tax abatements based on the 410 Rule, but Hardie is the first to state publicly he and his employer intend to do so.
NH RSA 76:16-a requires that abatement applications be made before March 1, and there is a required non-refundable $65 application fee.
The taxpayer must show there is “good cause” for the abatement, and the applicant has the burden of proof for showing there is a discrepancy between a property’s assessed value and its market value. That’s generally accomplished by obtaining a professional opinion by an attorney or a realtor, according to those with knowledge of the process.
Information on the law and the application itself can be viewed by clicking here.