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Mill Building Owners Not Done Fighting

Claremont — Attorneys for John Illick, the owner and partner of two renovated mill buildings on Water Street, filed a motion in Sullivan County Superior Court Friday, asking a judge to reconsider his Aug. 15 decision denying a 2009 tax abatement for their client that would have cost the city thousands of dollars in tax refunds.

The motion centers on the argument that because the court found both properties were grossly overvalued it defies logic, Illick’s attorneys argue, to conclude they were not disproportionately overassessed.

“To avoid such a conclusion, the city would need to make a showing that it assessed all properties at values of 300 percent to 400 percent more than their fair market value,” attorney Matt Cairns wrote in his motion for reconsideration.

In a second motion, Cairns seeks “clarification”and asks that the 2009 values established in the ruling be applied in subsequent tax years, which could result in significant refunds paid by the city if the court agrees.

Cairns, with the Concord law firm of Gallagher, Callahan and Gartell, argued in his nine-page reconsideration motion that the court “correctly” found the two properties at 21 and 29 Water Street were “overvalued by the city by more than 10 million dollars” but erred in determining there was “insufficient evidence at trial to support abatement.”

Cairns calculates that his client overpaid taxes in 2009 at 21 Water St., by $262,000. He arrived at that figure by comparing the city’s assessment of $12.5 million and the valuation of $3.9 million accepted by Judge Brian Tucker in his ruling.

Illick’s company, Sugar River Mills Redevelopment, owns 29 Water St., the former Peterson building, which the city assessed at $2.3 million. He is part owner of Claremont Mill Redevelopment at 21 Water St., the Wainshal building, home to the Common Man Inn and Red River Computer. Illick went to court to lower the 2009 values to $3.9 million for the Wainshal building and $550,000 for the Peterson and obtain a tax abatement.

Judge Tucker agreed with the plaintiffs’ sought-after values based on their expert’s testimony but also ruled that the plaintiffs failed to prove they were disproportionately assessed in relation to other properties in the city and thus he denied the abatement.

Cairns compares the court’s assessed values to the city’s and notes that Claremont’s figures are 320 percent and 419 percent above Tucker’s fair market value. He argues there is ample evidence of “extreme disproportionality.”

“These extreme differences in assessed versus fair market value are evidence of disproportionate assessment, irrespective of any other evidence of the city’s equalization ratio,” the reconsideration motion states. “To conclude otherwise, would, by implication, amount to a finding that all other properties in the City were assessed in 2009 at a ratio of more than 300 percent to 400 percent.”

Cairns also writes that Tucker failed to account for the city’s testimony, from former assessor Ed Tinker, that it used an equalization ratio (assessed value vs. market value) of 100 percent in 2009. This means the city would have considered all properties to be assessed equally.

“Evidence of any deviation from true fair market value would be proof of disproportionate assessment,” Cairns wrote.

Illick first filed for an abatement in 2010 and was denied by the city. He appealed to Sullivan County Superior Court and the case was heard before Tucker last September.

The Peterson and Wainshall buildings were part of a $25 million private renovation project to complement the city’s investment in infrastructure improvements in the Water Street district. The project was completed in the spring of 2009 and also includes the Common Man Restaurant, a separate building that was not part of the court case.

Cairns said in his reconsideration motion that his client invested in good faith with the belief their property would be assessed at fair market value like others in the city and they would be partners in helping “revive Claremont.”

“Instead, the city used a five-year revaluation to engage in a money grab, assessing Petitioners’ property beyond any reasonable measure of value,” Cairns wrote.

The city has 10 days to file a response before the case is handed back to Judge Tucker.

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