by Eugene Reed

Property taxpayers have long been at the mercy of municipal assessors and their secretive “art” of assessing.

Last year the Nottingham property owners located around Pawtuckaway Lake were shocked to find that their properties had been singled out for a large increase in assessed values. The residents organized and were successful in having the $28,000,000 rise in assessed values decreased by $7,000,000. A mysterious drop of over 25% of value that was already accepted by the Selectmen/Assessors. Why? The Selectmen responded that it wasn’t a mistake, but merely a $7,000,000 “adjustment”! Or as the irresponsible State of New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration DRA stated there was “ample” protest to warrant a reduction in the new assessed values. This has been the modus operandi of some assessing companies. Over-assess and then throw them a bone, a token to quell the impending taxpayer riot. The Selectmen/Assessors stood their unresponsive (arrogant?) ground even after a third party assessor (hired by the Town) ripped the reassessment practices used. Well, that’s all history.

Now comes the lake that is not a lake. During storms over a year ago Nottingham Lake’s dam failed and what was a lake was a lake no more. How does the Town now value “waterfront” property that has no water?

Well, property in New Hampshire is assessed (valued) as it stands on April 1 of each year. Demolish your home on March 31, no taxes for the house portion of the valuation. Erect a modular home on April 2, no house valuation for that tax year. Have no water in your “lake” on April 1? The Town should recognize that the factor that they have attributed to the “waterfront” location no longer exists.

Seems fair, but not when you can throw the uninformed and naive a bone, a token recognition of their new status as having mud and weeds for a view instead of rippling water.

Here’s the token reduction in value: assessment for having “waterfront” value (in addition to what non waterfront taxpayers are valued at) is $60,000. Now for the lack of water; an arbitrary reduction of $37,900. Another example: waterfront assessment $54,000; mud and weed adjustment -$23,500. Another: $50,000 waterfront reduced by only $27,000 when no waterfront exists.

Thus is the “art” of assessing in New Hampshire today. (And you know what sometimes passes as “art”) No effective State assessing oversight, no standards to adhere to, no effective appeal system, no conscience of some assessors, and an Assessing Standards Board that has implemented no standards since being formed in 2001. Unfortunately we are a population that has misplaced faith in “the system” of assessing.

Eugene Reed of Nottingham is a former municipal assessor, public member of the state Assessing Standards Board, associate member of the International Association of Assessing Officials and associate member of the New Hampshire Association of Assessing Officials.