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Judge Rejects Request to Revisit Claremont Tax Ruling

Claremont — A judge has rejected a motion asking him to reconsider his denial of a tax abatement on two renovated mill buildings on Water Street.

In a decision issued Friday, Sullivan County Superior Court Judge Brian Tucker said the court adheres to its finding that the buildings’ owners failed to prove they paid unfairly high property tax bills.

City Manager Guy Santagate said Friday the denial was welcome news.

“We are grateful for the opinion and it reconfirms that our tax bills are on target,” Santagate said, adding that the city wants to continue working with the mill owners going forward despite the tax dispute.

John Illick, owner of the Peterson building at 29 Water St., and an investor and manager of the Wainshal building at 21 Water St., sought an abatement for taxes paid in 2009, claiming that the assessed values of the properties — $2.3 million and $12.5 million, respectively — were far in excess of fair market value.

The city denied the abatement request in 2010 and the case went to trial last September in Superior Court. In his decision, Tucker agreed the city was overvaluing the properties and gave credence to the plaintiff’s expert witness who put their values at $550,000 for the Peterson and $3.9 million for the Wainshal, which is home to the Common Man Inn and Red River Computer.

However, Tucker still denied the abatement. He ruled that the owners hadn’t demonstrated they were paying a disproportionate share of taxes.

Matt Cairns, attorney for Illick, said in his Aug. 23 motion asking Judge Tucker to reconsider that if the court agrees the properties are grossly over assessed, one must conclude that the resulting tax bills were inflated. But the city’s attorney, Robert Carey, citing New Hampshire case law, argued “a property’s fair market value is a different question from a taxpayer’s proportionate share of taxes. Evidence of the former does not prove the latter.”

Cairns said in an email Friday afternoon he would discuss the next step with his client.

“We are disappointed that the court did not take the opportunity to correct the City’s clear error in its valuation and assessment of our client’s properties. We have 30 days in which to take an appeal and we are reviewing our options,” Cairns said.

The court also denied a motion by Cairns asking that the assessed values for tax years subsequent to 2009 be the lower ones established during the trial. Tucker said such action should only be taken when an abatement is granted.

“Since the court did not order the abatement, the requirement with respect to determining value in later years does not apply to this case,” Tucker ruled.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at ogrady56@yahoo.com.