This piece is reprinted with permission from the author. It was also printed in Foster’s.
Like most people, I have an aversion to injustice. Here in the “Live Free or Die” state of New Hampshire, a glaring example of injustice is the levying of an odious view tax on property owners who have views from their property. It matters not to the Selectmen or contracted assessors that you neither own the view being taxed nor do you control it.
Furthermore, they readily admit that determining a view’s value is subjective. I know this to be true. In October, 2008 in Grafton County Superior Court, Gary Roberge, Chief Executive of Avitar Associates of New England, who assessed the properties in Hebron, testified under oath that “regarding view assessments, yes, a lot about it is subjective but what isn’t?”
What this means is that, hypothetically, if five non-collaborating tax assessors arrive at a given property on five different days to evaluate a view, it is not only possible but almost certain that five different tax values will result. The reason is simple. To this day, despite repeated requests from Tom Thomson and other Public Members of the Assessing Standards Board, the Department of Revenue Administration and the New Hampshire Assessing Standards Board have not issued a clear, concise definition of what constitutes a “view.” As Mr. Eugene T. Reed, Public Member of the ASB has told me, “Assessing properties with views is up to the assessing company or local assessors. There is no standard or guideline.”
Widespread subjectivity has no place in fair taxation and that is clearly what we have today. Mad King George the Third of England would have rubbed his hands in glee at the thought of imposing such a tax on his subjects in the colonies.
Adding insult to injury, the NHDRA claims that there is no separate view tax in New Hampshire. It is illegal. The DRA insists that it is a “view factor”, not a “view tax.” This is mere semantics. It makes no difference to any property owner, whether it is called a “view factor”, “view assessment” or “view tax”. The unalterable fact is that starting in 2005, the view’s assessed value is shown on a separate line on the tax assessment card, and it is assigned a very specific monetary value, which immediately translates into a higher property tax. Ergo, it is a view tax, period.
Arbitrarily assigning an exact monetary value to a view that will vary widely depending on which assessor is doing the evaluating and what kind of a day it is, is wrong. It’s Un-American, and if it isn’t illegal and unconstitutional, it certainly ought to be.
Also consider this: Avitar Associates of New England has already assessed more than half of the towns in New Hampshire (110 at last count), a fact of which Gary Roberge is most proud. Moreover, Avitar has sold, and is currently selling its assessing software to many other towns in New Hampshire. So essentially, one company is setting the standard for how properties are assessed in the Granite State. Why is this allowed?
You may be thinking, “I am a property owner who pays taxes, but I don’t have a view, so this doesn’t concern me.” That approach is wrong. It does affect you. If someone is being taxed disproportionately, it affects all other payers in the town or county as the budget must be borne by all. So, if one property owner is under-assessed for his view, and that can and does happen since there is no standard for assessing views, the others must make up the difference.
Astonishing as it may seem, in NH a barber must have a license to cut your hair, yet an assessor evaluating real estate, sometimes valued in the millions of dollars, does not. Furthermore, there is no ethics board to reprimand or discipline assessors who make bad value decisions, whether deliberate or not. Given the importance of property taxes, New Hampshire owners should demand that assessors be licensed by the state.
These view taxes, and that’s what they are (despite the DRA’s insistence on calling them view factors), are nothing less than backdoor tax increases that give government officials no incentive to rein in their spending. Frankly, I am sick and tired of government, local, state and federal, dipping further and further into our pockets, all as a direct result of their wanton spending.
Finally, I encourage all of you reading this to contact Governor John Lynch and tell him that he should ensure that more Public Members are appointed to the NH Assessing Standards Board, the ASB, and the Board of Taxation and Land Appeals, the BTLA. The reason is simple; both boards have too many assessors and appraisers serving on them and not enough Public Members, leaving the biggest stakeholders in the appeal process, the property owners, seriously under-represented. It’s an unfair system that will not change until the public is properly represented.
Who was it who said, “For evil to triumph, it is only necessary for good men to stand by and do nothing.”?
Frank M. Handibode is a retiree from Hebron, NH.