commentary by Timothy Horrigan
(member of the House Petitions & Redress Committee)
This petition calls for a fundamental reform in our state's antiquated tax system— i.e., making property tax assessments uniform statewide. And yet it was— ironically— filed by a conservative Republican, a "free stater" named J.C. "Duffy" Daugherty. At an October 20, 2011 hearing, Rep. Daugherty assured the committee that he was not in favor of replacing the property tax with any other tax, especially not with a broad-based tax.
Basically, the main issue behind this petition is that Mr. Handibode feels his home was assessed at an overly high value. A secondary issue is that his neighbors' house and land was assessed for less, even though the neighbors' house has more square footage and their land has a better view. Hebron happens have to one of the lowest property tax rates in the state, but there is still a lot of money at stake, and I can't fault Mr. Handibode for being irked.
PETITION FOR REDRESS OF GRIEVANCE
TO: The Honorable House of Representatives
FROM: Petitioner Representative Duffy Daugherty, Coos 1
DATE: September 27, 2011
SUBJECT: Grievance of Frank M. Handibode, Hebron, New Hampshire
Your Petitioner Representative Daugherty on behalf of Frank M. Handibode of Hebron, hereinafter presents the following summary of his grievance involving a dispute with the Town of Hebron Board of Selectmen, Avitar Associates of New England, the town's agent for property assessments, and the New Hampshire Board of Tax and Land Appeals (BTLA) and invokes the constitutional authority and duty of the Honorable House of Representatives pursuant to Articles 31 and 32 to bring about redress:
Grievance involving a dispute with the Town of Hebron Board of Selectmen, Avitar Associates of New England, and the BTLA for either making in 2006 and again in 2008 or upholding in 2010 a faulty property assessment on the home of Mr. Handibode. These individuals and organizations erroneously used or incorrectly ratified faulty technical and administrative data to make or support the assessment, as well as applied a separately identified but undefined arbitrary, capricious, and subjective property evaluation factor for "views" to the overall assessment in calculating the total property value.
Wherefore, your Petitioner prays that the House of Representatives consider this proposed remedy:
The New Hampshire House of Representatives shall authorize a study and oversight committee to conduct a full and complete top-to-bottom review of the New Hampshire property assessment, taxation, and appeal processes for the purpose of overhauling these processes to include developing and recommending such necessary legal and administrative changes that will ensure all New Hampshire taxpaying property owners receive the maximum protection and fairness due them. Such changes shall include enforcing the use of realistic, verifiable, current, and truly comparable property values, using only recognized and clearly objective and measurable real estate and building evaluation criteria with no application of separate subjective factors such as those related to views as indicated on current property cards, and requiring only complete, accurate, and correct property and personal information and data that will result in the derivation of honest, fair, equitable, and understandable property assessments for the property-owning taxpaying citizens of New Hampshire.
Respectfully submitted by Petitioner Representative Daugherty on Behalf of Frank M. Handibode.
We had the first hearing on this petition on October 20, 2011. Mr. Handibode acknowledged that "comps" (i.e., comparable properties) have recently been sold for something close to his property's assessed value. However, in Mr. Handibode's view (pun not intended), the assessors should have used older sales which happened to be at lower prices. Unfortunately, the committee was never treated during the initial hearing (which used up its full two hour time slot) to a simple explanation of how the assessment should have been handled.
One frustrating aspect of this petition is that some key points were assumed to be self-evident when they were anything but self-evident. Like for example, at the initial hearing, Mr. Handibode and Rep. Daugherty both made much of the fact that the neighbors' house was given a Quality rating of "EXC+20" while the Handibode house was merely rated "EXC." Therefore, it was supposedly self-evident that the neighbors' house had to be valued at a higher price, notwithstanding a series of scary notations about stuff like "holes in walls and floors from leaks," "cracks in walls and ceilings = poor construction," and "chimney collapsed" (to name just a few.) It certainly wasn't self-evident to me that the higher "Quality" rating trumped the negative items in the assessor's notes.
When I look at Mr. Handibode's own documents, I see that the assessor knocked 60% off the value of the neighbors' house expressly because of the flaws listed in the Notes section of the property card. In fairness to Mr. Handibode, I should say he actually seemed to accept this explanation for why the other house's value was marked down at a subsequent hearing on December 15, 2011— although he hung tough on the issue of the "view tax." (The neighbor's land was the same size to the square inch and was assessed at exactly the same value to the penny.)
At that December 15, 2011 hearing, we were also treated to a visit from my former neighbor Thomas "Tommy" Thomson. (He was my neighbor when I lived in Orford, NH.) Tommy is the son of the late Gov. Meldrim "Ax the Tax" Thomson, and he himself is a staunch opponent of any and all taxes. He regaled us with the epic tale of his late father's metal silos which were mistakenly assessed as brick silos. He also showed us two pictures of a piece of vacant land in Orford which had a "view tax" applied to it even though in both shots there was nothing much to see but some rather unimpressive trees. The relevance of all this to Mr. Handibode's case was not entirely clear, but Orford does share an assessment company (Avitar Associates) with Hebron. (Orford's tax rates seem to be roughly twice what Hebron's are, by the way,)
Tommy Thomson & his ax; Tax Day 2011
[January 10, 2012] The Free State Project-affiliated (and ultraconservative) Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire has taken an interest in this petition. Just before a January 10, 2012 hearing (which I missed because of the Presidential Primary), they mentioned it in their weekly email blast:
Room 307 LOB: Property tax assessment redress of grievance
The RLCNH would be opening up a can of worms here in the unlikely (but not impossible) event that this petition leads to some meaningful action. If we start talking about fundamental changes in the property tax system, we have to talk about whether it even makes sense to rely so heavily on property taxes. We would also have to deal with the current fact that local property tax rates vary widely and wildly from town to town, which isn't exactly fair. Mr. Handibode benefits from that unfairness, since his town, Hebron, has one of the lowest rates in the state.
[January 15, 2012] Rep. Andrew Manuse, who is a Free Stater and a conservative, brought an interesting proposal before the Redress Committee at the January 10, 2012 hearing (which I missed because of the presidential primary) and sent the chairman a note on January 10 which was forwarded to the whole committee on January 12. The "Mr. Thomson" referred to in Manuse's note is Tommy Thomson. "Mr. Hamilton" is Stephan Hamilton, Director of the Property Appraisal Division of the Department of Revenue Administration. Here is Rep. Manuse's letter:
Subject: Follow-up: Petition 9 resolution testimony
Dear Chairman Ingbretson and
Subcommittee Chairman Lambert:
Repeal current assessment system.
Continue to use USPAP Standards (2012-13 edition) www.uspap.org
Republican State Representative
Rockingham District 5
3 Hilda Ave., Derry, N.H. 03038
2011 House Petitions:
Official Petitions & Redress committee page (not much to see here)