Citizen Exposes Flaws in Assessing Practices in Nashua, New Hampshire
A private citizen, Laurie Ortolano, discovered vastly different values for similar homes when she researched the assessments in Nashua, New Hampshire. She felt as though she received an unfair assessment on her house in connection with a revaluation for the 2018 tax year. The revaluation was performed by a private appraisal company hired by the City of Nashua to perform a statistical update. She spent two months reviewing property tax cards and discovered inconsistencies in assessments. One of the areas of deficiencies she identified was the manner in which building permits were handled by the Nashua assessing department. She used the Mayor’s house as an effective example to illustrate the failure to adjust property values as the result of building permits. The house owned by Mayor Donchess had a building permit on file for $100,000 of work to be performed 10 years earlier. However, Ortolano described how the assessment for the property had only increased by $30,000.
When Ortolano brought her complaints to the City, the Mayor ordered an audit of the assessing department to be led by the Chief Financial Officer and the Mayor’s Chief of Staff. The audit report identified a number of deficiencies. One of the deficiencies identified is that a full measure and list had not been conducted in the City since the early 1990’s. A full measure and list involves the physical inspection of each property in the taxing jurisdiction, also referred to as a full revaluation. The revaluation performed in Nashua only involved a statistical update with a drive-by review of properties in Nashua. Under N.H. law, while the New Hampshire Constitution requires revaluations every five years, this provision of the Constitution has been interpreted to not require full measure and lists every five years as long as the properties are revalued by some method such as a statistical update.
Some other findings of the report were ineffective management of the assessing department and the lack of internal policies to guide operations. One of the recommendations of the Audit Report was the elimination of the Chief Assessor position. The functions of the Assessing Department are to be overseen by the position of Administrative Services Director who will also be responsible for GIS and Information Technology. Another of the recommendations is that a full measure and list be conducted prior to the next revaluation of property in the city.
It should be noted that the NH Department of Revenue Administration has conducted numerous reviews of the prior revaluations in Nashua. In its review in 2005, it identified as a problem the lack written guidelines for an inventory program for keeping assessments up to date as the result of building permits. In 2011, the Department of Revenue Administration identified the lack of means to accomplish the goal of visiting every property that has a building permit issued in the prior year. It took a private citizen’s investigation of the assessing practices in 2018 for the City to finally acknowledge the problem that it had with the assessing department and to take steps to address the deficiencies despite having the state agency responsible for oversight of assessors identify some of the same problems.
Ms. Ortolano went to great lengths to educate herself about the assessments in Nashua. She has received deserved praise for her work in exposing the deficiencies in the assessing practices in Nashua. Her efforts will likely result in improvements to the assessment practices in her city. She has demonstrated that taxpayers should not simply accept on faith that the assessing departments are using sound practices that result in fair assessments, but that the accuracy and fairness of assessments should be investigated.
Allobar Strategies provides professional assistance in evaluating the fairness of property tax assessments. If you would like assistance with an evaluation of your property tax, please visit Allobar Strategies or call (603) 333-2211.
By: John F. Hayes, Esq., General Counsel to Allobar Strategies.