When Assessing Becomes Criminal
We have all done it. Opened a property tax bill and thought, at least for a moment, this assessment is so high it should be criminal. Well in the city of Nashua, NH they are taking it a step further. The Nashua police are investigating Nashua assessing personnel for allegations of mileage fraud and for unexplained reductions in property tax assessments.
At the request of Mayor Jim Donchess, Police Chief Mike Carignan opened an investigation into activities in the Nashua Assessing office. Apart from the claims of mileage fraud, there is also an allegation that there were approximately $24 million in reductions in the assessments for 13 properties on October 10, 2018.
As written about in Nashua Assessor Asleep at the Wheel, a Nashua employee of the Assessing Department was alleged to have been napping and driving around aimlessly in order to accrue mileage for reimbursement by the City when he was supposed to be conducting field work. A private citizen, Laurie Ortolano, hired a private investigator to follow the employee after she discovered problems with the revaluation. The private investigator claims to have observed and taken pictures of parked outside a Holiday Inn or at the Rail Trail parking lot during hours that the employee claimed to have been doing field work. These allegations are the likely one of the reasons for the police investigation.
There are a number of things that are troubling about the Nashua Police Department investigating the Nashua Assessing Department. For one thing, it seems to be a direct conflict of interest because the Nashua Police Department is funded to a significant degree by the funds generated by the property tax assessments produced by the Nashua Assessing Department. Secondly, Mayor Donchess, who requested the investigation, has stated that he does not think any criminal act occurred. That seems to indicate that the criminal investigation may have a pre-determined outcome regardless of whether a finding of no criminal activity is the correct finding. Thirdly, the Nashua Police Department is admittedly facing a difficult task because the investigators are unfamiliar with the highly technical assessing function. Finally, the state agencies of the Department of Revenue Administration and the Attorney General’s office seem better suited to conduct an investigation without the specter of a potential conflict of interest.
While these claims may or may not be proven to be true, the City of Nashua is experiencing a crisis in confidence by its taxpayers because of the continuing complaints by taxpayers, audits, review by state agencies, and now a police investigation of the Nashua Assessing Department. The City of Nashua should recognize this and not treat this as business as usual. An immediate full revaluation should be voted on and approved rather than the current plan for a revaluation to be conducted over three years. Additionally, a complete overhaul of the assessing department should be implemented. While the City has hired a consultant to analyze the assessing function in Nashua, it remains to be seen whether the City will be willing to commit enough resources to the assessing function to correct the problems that have already been identified.
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.
The above information is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.