Lebanon Approves Listen’s Tax Exemption for Bridgman’s Building

  • Listen Community Services is acquiring the Bridgman’s Fine Home Furnishings building, pictured on Friday, June 16, 2017, on the Miracle Mile in Lebanon, N.H. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/27/2018 5:55:51 PM
Modified: 6/28/2018 11:11:40 AM

Lebanon — The city’s Board of Assessors unanimously approved a tax exemption for the former Bridgman’s Furniture Store on Wednesday, to the applause of Listen Community Services, which is working to renovate the building into its flagship thrift shop.

The board’s decision means that Listen will forgo paying about $50,000 in taxes this year, money that instead will go toward the nonprofit’s charitable efforts to provide clothing, fuel and rent assistance to Upper Valley residents.

“I’m extremely happy that the city and Board of Assessors were so willing to approach this with an open mind,” Listen Executive Director Kyle Fisher said after Wednesday’s meeting. “We took on this building specifically so that we would be able to meet the ever-increasing demand that we have for all of our programs.”

Listen came before the four-member board in a challenge to its tax bill, which assessed the nonprofit’s new Miracle Mile property as a commercial space. The group argued that charitable work now being performed in its downtown headquarters soon will move into the building.

At issue during the meeting was whether the building is being “used and occupied” to further Listen’s charitable mission, said Rick Vincent, Lebanon’s chief assessor.

Every year, the city bases its assessments on how a property is being used on April 1. Because Listen hasn’t yet moved its thrift store or operations to the site, they missed the deadline for a tax exemption, he told the board.

Vincent handed out copies of a 2005 ruling from the state Board of Tax and Land Appeals, which denied a similar tax exemption sought by a training facility to be run by the Painters and Allied Trades District Council #35 in Brentwood, N.H.

The state board said the property failed to meet the requirements for an exemption because the facility wasn’t complete by April 1 that year.

“Thus, any property that, as of the April 1 assessment date, is not owned, used or occupied by the exempt entity is taxable,” the board wrote in its ruling.

But Lebanon attorney Barry Schuster argued that Listen’s circumstances were different. The training facility was only two-thirds complete when its owners asked for an exemption, while the Bridgman’s building already stands, said Schuster, who represented the nonprofit.

Listen purchased the former Bridgman’s store for $2 million in October but waited until it closed in February to begin renovation efforts, Fisher told the board.

Permits for $750,000 of interior construction were granted this spring, and Listen hopes to move in by late August, he said.

Schuster also provided the board with a 1922 court case, where the former St. Mary’s School in Concord was granted an exemption before construction was complete on a new building there.

State courts felt that by simply obtaining the land, the school was moving forward in good faith, Schuster said, adding the April 1 deadline also is open to local interpretation.

“When do you draw the line? The First Congregational Church may be empty, it might have been getting renovations on April 1,” Schuster said. “Does that mean it loses its exemption for the year or do they have to have a special service?”

The Board of Assessors ultimately agreed that Listen’s work demonstrated that the building would be used for charitable works, and quickly approved the exemption.

“I don’t think there’s any question — the intent, the good faith — what was going on there,” board member Shane MacDonald said.

While the Board of Assessors granted Listen’s tax exemption, it also chose to hold off on a similar request from Twin Pines Housing Trust.

The nonprofit is working with the Upper Valley Haven to convert an apartment complex at 10 Parkhurst St. into 18 units for the area’s chronically homeless population.

The building was sold for $650,000 in August, but construction didn’t begin until October, Twin Pines CFO Beth Long said during the assessors meeting. Work remains ongoing and residents are expected to begin moving into the building in July, she said.

Without a tax exemption, Twin Pines would be expected to pay about $10,000 in taxes this year. Like Listen, the nonprofit is actively working toward using the property for charitable purposes, Long said.

Although the assessors appeared to be in support of the project, they requested that Twin Pines and the city work to negotiate a payment that could be made in lieu of taxes.

The project meets the definition of a “charitable, nonprofit housing project” under state law, said Vincent, the city assessor. But that same law also requires those developments to agree to some form of annual payments to defray the cost of municipal services, he said.

The board is scheduled to take up Twin Pines’ request again in July, Vincent said after the meeting.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.

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