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Claremont Mill Owner Appeals Case

Dispute Over Assessment Taken to Supreme Court

Claremont — The owner and manager of two renovated historic mill buildings in Claremont who is fighting the city over what he contends is an excessive tax assessment is taking his case to the state Supreme Court.

John Illick, the owner and partner of the Water Street buildings that have been at the heart of the city’s downtown revitalization plan, has filed an appeal with the State Supreme Court of a lower court ruling denying a 2009 tax abatement on the two properties.

In August, Sullivan County Superior Court Judge Brian Tucker denied the abatement that would have forced the city to refund more than $300,000 in property taxes for 2009 alone and probably an equivalent amount for 2010, 2011, and 2012.

Though Tucker found both properties — 21 and 29 Water St. — to be over assessed between 300 and 400 percent, he ruled that the plaintiffs did not prove that their tax bills were disproportionate to other properties in the city.

“Since the plaintiffs did not prove their property was assessed at a greater percentage of fair market value than other property in Claremont generally, their requests for abatements are denied,” Tucker concluded in his 24-page Aug. 15 ruling, which came nearly a year after the case was heard in September 2012.

The case went to court after the city denied the abatement in 2010. A month ago, Tucker also denied a motion by the plaintiff’s attorney to reconsider his decision.

The appeal, filed Thursday by Concord attorney Matt Cairns, poses 12 questions for the justices to weigh in the case.

The questions, which cite state law, focus on the equalization ratio the city applied in 2009 and the values accepted by Tucker.

“Did the court abuse its discretion in failing to abate petitioners’ taxes where the court found that petitioners’ properties were assessed at more than 300 percent of fair market value, and where (the law) requires the Court to make such order as justice requires,” read the final question.

Cairns also asked the court to consider if Tucker erred in his ruling on disproportionality after he found Illick’s properties were assessed in excess of 300 percent of fair market value in a year when the city was required to assess all properties at “full and true value.”

The questions all seek rulings on the main issues of equalization ratios and assessed-versus-fair market value.

In his motion last month to Tucker seeking reconsideration, Cairns argued that if his client’s properties are over assessed, the court must find the taxes unlawful unless the city can prove the assessments of all properties were inflated at between 300 percent and 400 percent.

The city’s attorney, Robert Carey, said in court documents that the plaintiff’s lawyer failed to prove a required element of any tax abatement: “disproportionality.”

Illick is the owner of 29 Water St., known as the Peterson building, through his company, Sugar River Mills Redevelopment LLC. The city assessed it at $2.3 million while Tucker, agreeing with the plaintiff’s expert witness, set the value at $550,000.

At 21 Water St., known as the Wainshal building, in which Illick is the manager and an investor, the city’s assessment is $12.5 million. Tucker ruled the property’s fair market value is $3.9 million. The Common Man Inn and Red River Computers occupy the building.

The early 20th century brick buildings were renovated in a multimillion project in 2008.

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