Property Assessments Plus - These are Taxing Times

Greetings NH Residents.

I can not help but touch on one national issue before we talk about property assessments in New Hampshire. Bear with me.

Much is being made by the leftist press of Saddam photographed in his undies. So it begs the question: If Saddam can pull up his reputation by his jockey shorts, will it become a "wedgie" issue in the next election?

On to NH and news the press will not touch. Friday, May 20 the Lancaster Taxpayers had their hearing at The Board of Land and Tax Appeals (Superior Court level tax court). The firm that "assessed" Lancaster in 2003 is Earls, Nieder, and Perkins (now under another name). ENP defended itself partially by implying that the Lancaster Taxpayers created most of the controversy around what they were claiming (with little evidence) was a good re-assessment. Current COD is close to 20% depending on how you bend numbers. (The BTLA's own investigator admitted her numbers were probably wrong). Read on and see for yourself.

For those of you who don't follow these issues closely, COD (Coefficient of Dispersion) is a term for how actual sales compare to assessments; it can be thought of as an average error. The state of New Hampshire deems CODs over 20% to be "unacceptable" and those between 15% and 20% to be "borderline to unacceptable". Generally, a COD of over 20% results in a new assessment. Besides calculating COD, the DRA is, by its own rules, tasked with verifying the accuracy of property record cards. It's supposed to take a sample of the cards, verifying them by physically visiting the properties described. The property record cards are graded on a form called a "Reassessment Monitoring Report." For a residential property, 40 or 47 is a passing grade; for a commercial property, passing is 48 or 57. In Lancaster, the DRA claims to have checked 130 (or 138) cards, none of which failed. When this was announced at a public meeting, the audience gasped. The Lancaster Taxpayers took a close look at the Report. The assessors claimed entry to 68% of the properties in town. However, only 42 of the DRA's sample – that's 32% - had been entered by the assessors. The odds of the sample being so skewed at random are about one in two billion. When the DRA's representative at the hearing was asked how the sample is constructed, he first claimed it was "random", then, under further questioning, admitted it's constructed as the DRA Monitor pleases. (Unfortunately, although the BTLA in its Show Cause order had requested the presence of the actual DRA officials who oversaw – and we use that term loosely – the original assessment, the DRA didn't send either of them.) It gets worse. Much worse. Of the 42 select properties that ENP entered, the DRA entered only 20. All the rest – 110 (or 118) were given PERFECT scores for interior inspections. And the non-interior verification was not exactly painstaking – for example, almost every rural property record card in town had "Utilities" wrong, but this error was not noted on a single Monitoring Report. (The form used by New Hampshire DRA monitors)

Finally, the DRA "checked" as many as 14 properties a day – this gives some idea of how careful they were in monitoring Lancaster's assessment. Now for an even simpler explanation of how this firm assessed Lancaster and in the process ignored almost every Administrative Rule designed to protect the interests of the taxpayer.

1. They left no assessing manual with the selectmen for public use as required under Administrative Rule 603.

2. They left no map showing how neighborhoods were classified as per 603 rules (law).

3. They left no legend as to the meaning of abbreviations, so 04 Pk Up could mean 2004 Chevy truck.

4. The assessment cards were not legal under 603 so you could not use your own card nor could you appeal with other cards as references.

5. Littleton, NH was used for a sample of building costs when local contractors prices must be used, again a violation of 603.

6. Many of the assessment cards were unsigned, and some showed data collectors doing assessments. Admin. Rule 603 requires an assessor to initial the cards and take responsibility for the numbers, NOT a data collector.

The software used by this firm was designed for other states NOT NH and does not work here as found in a previous case against Earls, Neider, and Perkins when they were sued successfully by Unity, NH. Lancaster taxpayers were subjected to and paid for a new assessment - a questionable one, backed up by lousy data and oversight from DRA, they had no information to file a timely appeal. The deadlines for filing an appeal of the new assessed values had come and gone before any necessary information was provided to taxpayers or the Selectmen. This is happening all over NH as seen in Winchester where that town's contracted assessing firm Nyberg and Purvis was required to post a new bond and fix the mess they left behind. I have personally learned over the years that the Board of Tax and Land Appeals needs constant supervision, and we need legislative oversight and financial penalties for assessing firms doing business in this state. An interesting side note: At the beginning of the hearing BTLA's Chairman, Paul Franklin said that the state grants the responsibility for assessing property to the towns and that the BTLA is not some super-assessing authority. Funny. Isn't that the way we funded education until the Claremont lawsuit?

Ed Naile, Chair
Coalition of NH Taxpayers
For more of Ed's writings see http://www.cnht.org/calendar