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Hanover officials leave door open for do-over on property assessments

  • Frank Pizzuti, of Etna, answers questions from his new tenant Lauren Andrews, of Barre, who is preparing to open her third location of AroMed Essentials, a store that sells aromatherapy and CBD products, in his Allen Street building in Hanover, N.H., Wednesday, July 24, 2019. "It all floats downhill," said Andrews about the impact of the town's 42% property tax assessment increase for Pizzuti's building. "This is a time when you want to support downtown businesses," she said. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Correspondent
Tuesday, September 17, 2019

HANOVER — More than 50 residents and commercial landowners attended a Hanover Advisory Board of Assessors public input session Monday evening, with many saying the town botched property reassessments last year.

Members of the board appeared sympathetic and left the door open for at least a partial do-over.

“We need to find out what went wrong and what went right and how to prevent this from happening again,” said Advisory Board Chairman Joe Roberto, who indicated that the panel would make some recommendations to the Selectboard and town.

He was followed by Selectboard representative Joanna Whitcomb, who said the timing of how the new valuations were announced was “a screw-up.”

“We all agree that the process in terms of when the reval numbers came out — if you were like me, I got my re-evaluation on one day and the next day I got my tax bill — we all agree that was bad and we apologize for that,” she said. “That piece of the process we acknowledge and accept responsibility for.”

Many residents were shocked when they opened their 2018 property reassessments to find their property values had spiked. The assessments, which the town is required to take every five years, came back in November, showing some properties had risen 50%, and in a few cases doubled.

Since then, some 400 appeals have been filed. For both residents and small-business owners, the issue of rising property assessments has far-reaching consequences.

“My fear is that our house went down (in a previous year’s assessment), and then it almost doubled. And if that happens again in two years, we’re out of Hanover, and I think a lot of people are out of Hanover,” said Silvia Spitta, a Dartmouth College professor of Spanish and comparative literature. “That is the big worry. ... We are being priced out of our own town.”

Spitta isn’t the only person who feels priced out. Area business owners such as Kenny Fabrikant, who owns the building that once held his Rosey Jekes boutique apparel store, and which he now rents out, worry that high prices will cause their tenants to leave.

“It’s difficult to get tenants when you tell them to pay these kinds of taxes,” he said.

For many who spoke at Monday’s meeting, the acknowledgment of problems wasn’t enough. Several residents offered suggestions to correct the assessments, including calls for the town to return to the 2017 assessments as the base, with a 2% increase for each property. Others said the town should look at other municipalities similar to Hanover in New England to see how they conduct their property assessments.

And a group of Hanover property owners who filed a petition last month to the New Hampshire Board of Tax and Land Appeals in a bid to force Hanover to redo the assessment called again for an immediate reassessment.

Members of the Advisory Board blamed at least part of the issue on a new assessment software program called Patriot. The town switched from the previous software, Vision, to the new program last year, because the cost of Vision tripled, Director of Assessing Dave McMullen said.

Property assessment software allows assessors to input home sale prices and get back property values.

But some attendees, including resident Rich Joseph, questioned whether the software program or human error is at fault.

He accused McMullen of “sales chasing,” an often-problematic practice in which an assessor raises a property’s value to meet its sale price.

McMullen has denied participating in sales chasing.

For many residents, Monday’s meeting was a chance to air frustrations and question what some called a lack of clarity and transparency in the assessment process. One resident who didn’t give her name asked for more “clear reasoning” about how the new assessments were determined, and another said he was frustrated to learn that his Conant Road neighbor’s property was assessed at a value that was $90,000 less than his own, though he said they were identical.

Whitcomb, the Selectboard member who is also the director of campus planning for Dartmouth, wrote down residents’ suggestions throughout the meeting and said the town is considering various options, including the possibility of a “whole new re-evaluation” or a neighborhood-by-neighborhood assessment.

Roberto also said a reassessment was possible.

“We don’t know yet what that final decision is going to be,” he said.

Anna Merriman can be reached at annalouisemerriman@gmail.com.