Special to Ossipee Lake Alliance
Ossipee—September 10, 2013—Lakefront property owners, including some who had not filed a request for a tax abatement, will receive tax relief after the Ossipee Board of Selectmen approved more than $123,045 in property tax rebates. According to an exhaustive review of Ossipee Lake land assessments prepared by Assessing Clerk Ellen White, the town will lose $7,916,200 in land value.
The town has funds available to cover the amount of abatements, according to Board of Selectmen Chair Harry Merrow, but the long range impact of such a hefty dip in assessed land value remains to be seen. Merrow added that he didn’t think the abatements or land value decrease would impact the town budget this year.
“Until we figure out what the budget is this year, we don’t know. Every year we pick up more [taxable] properties though, so it depends,” he said.
Checks either have gone out or will be sent to property owners whose values were adjusted following a thorough review of assessments by Todd Haywood of Granite Hill Municipal Services. Haywood replaced former contract assessor David Wiley in January.
Out of 159 abatement applications received at town hall, 135 involved lakefront properties. According to White, the largest tax abatement check was for $6,062 while a handful of other property values increases and some remain unchanged.
Haywood explained his methodology in an overview to the town’s select board. He stated that he noted inconsistencies in land assessments. including some in the coding of neighborhoods, and unexplained land condition adjustments. And when he reviewed the 2010 revaluation for a listing of land adjustment factor for lake properties, he found no explanations.
“The more I looked into these the more apparent it became the only way to truly ensure some semblance of continuity was to establish a set of parameters and apply them as uniformly as possible…I then looked at every property on the lake via drive-by inspection, relying on the notes on the assessment record card and made land adjustments accordingly,” he said.
In a follow up interview, Haywood said some adjustments on land value were made due to a steep slope or other topographic characteristic that would render the lakefront less valuable than a smooth, sandy beach.
He said in its 2012 Equalization Ration Study, the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration determined that the waterfront properties in Ossipee were assessed 10 percent higher than the rest of the municipality. As a result, Haywood lowered the land rate on Ossipee Lake by 10 percent and then conducted a field review. That review revealed other inconsistencies, such as seasonal cottages being taxed as year-round homes.
Controversy over the town’s tax rate for lakefront properties arose in 2005 when values increased by 33 percent, according to Ossipee Lake property owner Roland Cherwek, one of the main parties who led the charge for a class action suit against the town last year. Cherwek and 62 other homeowners who experienced increases in values despite a real estate market downturn attempted to have their case heard as a class action suit. The New Hampshire Supreme Court denied their request for class action status earlier this year.
Cherwek will receive a tax rebate check for $1,300 for 2012, but was dissatisfied that he and others will not see relief for the 2010 and 2011 tax years. “We finally got a victory here, where about 110 people now will get rebates…we won the war, but I feel we were cheated out of rebates for 2010 and 2011,” he said.
Cherwek said he was disappointed when the Supreme Court denied their request for class action status. He wrote in a recent letter to the editor. “The parties involved were elated when they learned that finally the substance of our class action suit on such a serious statewide issue would potentially be reviewed by the New Hampshire Supreme Court.”
The appeal to the Supreme Court was answered with one word ‘denied.’ No reason was given, no indication as to why. In fact, no evidence that our well argued appeal was even read because they can legally do this even though we met all of their criteria. About $13,000 has been spent to date and the facts of the issue have not even been looked at. Is this justice? No, this is justice denied!”
Homeowner Jim Fitzpatrick, another main party in the attempted class action suit, said his rebate was about $1,000 and that his total land and home value decreased from $711,000 to $659,000. “Given the whole situation, I think it was a fair settlement,” he said.
Fitzpatrick credited Haywood’s diligence and fairness.
“Now, on the positive side, I think the town made a good decision to get a new assessor. This guy works with you. I think going forward he will bring some semblance of fairness to the assessment process,” he said.
The properties in question were located on the following roads: Danville Road, Channel Road, Nichols Road, Bay Point Road, Leavitt Road, Cove Road, Broad Bay Road, Lower Broad Bay Road, Jay Loop, Remle Road, Old Broad Bay Road, Ridge Road, Spur Road, Deer Cove Road, Patch Pond Road, South Shore Road, Spaulding Road, Furber Road, Pequawket Trail, Cassie Cove Road, Long Sands Road, Bluffs Boulevard, Weetamoe Road, Briggs Road, Cold Springs Circle, Frost Road, Ossipee Lake Drive, Hodsdon Shore Road, and Gretchen Road.