Heads Up Selectmen

Eugen Reed, CNHT Director, drops this bit of good news on taxpayers!

NH Board of Tax and Land Appeals Makes Unprecedented Decision

   Many Selectmen refuse to take an active role in determining the merits of a taxpayer’s abatement application. Some rely exclusively upon the “recommendations” of contract assessors. Many municipalities are short on information as to how property values are determined. The NH Assessing Standards Board has failed to provide standards or even guidelines for the Officials /Assessors to follow. A result of these state and municipal government actions and inactions is that taxpayers select one of next avenues for answers and judgment to their perception of being unfairly taxed. The Board of Tax and Land Appeals (BTLA) (http://www.nh.gov/btla/) is the path most property taxpayers take for appeal of property taxes once municipal officials deny an abatement request. (Superior Court is the other path.)

In the past few years, more and more frustrated taxpayers have elected to pay the filing fee and have the BTLA give them a fair hearing on the merits of their cases. The effect of numerous taxpayers from all over the state filing with the BTLA has caused hearing delays of up to 2 years for the Board. This case “backlog” has caused the BTLA concern as to the ability for them to dispense timely justice for the taxpayer.

Mr. Paul Franklin, Chairman of the Board of Tax and Appeals recently appeared before the Assessing Standards Board (ASB) to apprise the members on how the caseload is being managed to reduce the delay for the public. The Chairman stressed that cases should be heard in a timely manner.

According to Chairman Franklin, there has been an increase in caseload over the last few years, and starting with the 2005 tax year case numbers are close to 1000. Previously property tax appeals were in the 400 to 600 range and the BTLA was able to arrange to hear cases within a one year time frame. As case numbers increased the BTLA started to review their procedures to try and reduce the amount of wait time for taxpayers. Assessing is a local issue and is best resolved locally versus a hearing, as the local officials should be the most knowledgeable about local properties. Therefore, the BTLA made a decision to order the taxpayer and municipality to meet on pending cases before a case will be scheduled before the BTLA. The parties must submit a Report of Settlement Meeting and Order to document the actual meeting and indicate if a resolution (or partial resolution) has been reached.

The unprecedented BTLA action of issuing an “ORDER” to both the municipality and the taxpayer to meet and try to settle pending cases was a bold step by the BTLA.

This action should be a message to municipalities municipalities:

1. That historically don’t weigh the merits of a taxpayers’ property tax complaints.

2. Municipalities which plan on only a small percentage of those that file for abatements locally to pursuer the next step of appeal.

3. Municipalities that refuse to even meet with taxpayers to discuss their request.

4. Municipal Officials/Selectmen who don’t have time or desire understand the basics of property assessing and decide to let the BTLA sort it out.

The initial responsibility for fair and equitable assessing rests with local Officials, not “the State” and not the BTLA. The growth of caseload and the resulting “ORDERS” back to the Cities and Towns is recognition of assessing administration failures at the local level.

Eugene T. Reed

Public Member – Assessing Standards Board