Ossipee — September 10, 2012 — More than 60 Ossipee Lake shorefront property owners have banded together to file another class-action lawsuit for property tax abatement for tax year 2011.
The lawsuit — headed up by landowners Roland Cherwek and James Fitzpatrick, and joined by 60 others — is similar to the one filed for the 2010 property tax year. The plaintiffs’ claim is that the land-base shorefront property values are over-assessed in comparison with other parts of Center Ossipee and that the calculations used to figure the rate do not include all the property sales transactions. The town of Ossipee’s tax assessor and select board have denied, either in full or in part, the taxpayers’ request for abatement.
Attorney Amy Manzelli of BCM Environmental and Land Law in Concord filed the latest lawsuit Aug. 31 in Carroll County Superior Court. Manzelli has filed a request asking the New Hampshire Supreme Court to classify the first lawsuit as a class-action suit.
Manzelli writes that it would be impractical for each individual property owner to file separate suits.
“The petitioning class members believe that damages for each individual are relatively small, making it economically unfeasible to pursue remedies other than as a class,” the request states.
The owners claim in the lawsuit that properties’ assessment “bear no rational relationship to the actual fair market values of the properties, even after applying a town-wide equalization adjustment.”
The property owners argue the assessor over-assessed their land values — they have no problem with the assessed value of their homes, many of which have been improved over the years.
The town’s contract tax assessor, David Wiley, utilized a base land tax rate for waterfront properties in the area at $400,000 per every first six-tenths of an acre. The proposed lawsuit does not challenge other parts of assessing value, such as the value of buildings, improvements or adjustments for the character of the land.
The first law suit was brought about because so many lake front property owners had been witnessing lake front property sales at well below assessed values for years. In the mean time they also witnessed their property assessments remain at the high levels established during the real estate boon. Eventually the property owners realized that something was wrong. In spite of an eroding real estate market and plummeting property values town officials where still able to create an impressive bank account. Thus began a multi year spending spree on the backs of the lake front tax payer.
Town officials as well as the state BLTA continued to deny abatement requests in the face of local real estate sales data. Town officials use a little trick to discount sales data called “arms length transaction”. It’s a discretionary tool used by the town to ignore reality when it does not suit them. As word progressed and people became more aware a collaboration formed and to court they went. They thought they would go to court to seek fairness. What they got was challenges by the town not to the assessments but to the owners right to present themselves collectively as a class action. Apparently the town is so confident in their imposed assessments and abatement denials that they decided to challenge the validity of a class action suit instead.
So now 60 plaintiffs stand not on the merits of their case facts but rather the convoluted legal system that forces them to spend time and money battling for a chance to just present their case.
Whether you are in Ossipee on the lake or not it should be of interest to all of us to see how ridiculous it is to use our legal system to seek fairness. What becomes painfully apparent is how our government at all levels, continues to buffer and isolate itself from accountability. In the mean time, regardless of what the real estate data says, the landowners must pay their pay their tax bills in full. And the town, well it can keep spending like it is Christmas……….
I am also an Ossipee property owner. The only way to determine if the lakefront owners are being overtaxed is to look at assessments across the board. Assessments are relative. If my property is assessed 25% greater than market value and, after analysis, it is shown that evryone else’s is 25% greater, then the assessment is fair. You cannot challenge one part without looking at the whole.
I beg to differ. Assessments are not supposed to be relative. They are supposed to be based on the market….by law. Sure there may be a random sale at or above the assessed value but that is not the norm..Most of the sales had are well below the assessed value. The towns fault is to regularly and systematically discount sales that THEY deem “distressed” or “non-arms length” transactions. So you have it backwards it’s the town being selective not the home owners as the town has the “authority” to discard actual sales data that does not support their assessments.
If you look “across the board” as you suggested you would note about a 20-25% drop in off the water property assessments. On the other hand waterfront assessments have remained constant or even increased since 2005-2006. Yet waterfront property owners selling their homes rarely sell for what the property is assessed for.
Do you all really believe that waterfront property, in Ossipee, is so magical that it is immune to the national real estate market decline………….
Town to Town property on the same lake is being assessed differently. Freedom has at least tried to be accountable to market value while Ossipee apparently has not. That difference warrants State Court attention.
Too often property gets taxed to some notion of its potential & not its actual market value. Those inflated taxes eventually force people with limited discretionary income to sell. The few buyers who can afford a vacation home aren’t interested in a rustic stud walled summer shack. So they end up getting a well below assessed value bargain on the land. The whole process just seems wrong. Some reassurance that the Courts have at least considered the issue would seem to be in everyone’s best interest.
“Some reassurance that the Courts have at least considered the issue would seem to be in everyone’s best interest.”
Absolutely !!! The only problem is the legal system. Let me explain. The home owners really can only challenge as a class. To obtain a lawyer and go to court individually is extremely cost prohibitive. And the town knows it. So the home owners band together and the town challenges their right to do so. So now instead of presenting a case about property assessments the home owners are fighting to just have the right to bring a class action suit. A superior court judge has agreed with the town already so now the home owners have to beg for an appeal to the state supreme court. In the mean time the lawyers get to keep on keep’n on and the home owners sit in wonder how it is that they can’t seem to even get their day in court. And the town of Ossipee, well they get to keep on collecting money they have no real right to. Some of the towns undocumented responses are…if you don’t like the taxes sell and leave…another good one is; you should feel luck to live on the lake.
We the people need to wake up and see just how powerful our government is becoming.
Don’t be fooled by Freedom’s taxes. The clowns downtown raised the value between 65%-70% some years ago. All the while giving themselves a major tax decrease!!! They should have been sued as well but no one, (me included) thought the legal system would take us seriously. Freedom waterfront owners should support the Ossipee effort fully. Relief for them will mean the same for us!! Congratulations to the owners for standing up for their rights.