Complaints about property taxes and a sand contract landed on the Whitefield selectmen’s desk Monday.
Chairman Steve McCormick told Dennis Merrill his request for property tax abatement was one of 15 submitted since tax bills came out last November. Portions of five abatements have been granted so far, McCormick said.
Both Merrill and Fred Fagin, who made an identical plea at an early January board meeting, have seen steep increases in assessed property values. Merrill said the town seems to have “two tax systems going. Doesn’t it seem discriminatory?”
Fagin said recently his abatement request was “denied outright with no explanation.” His 1991 farmhouse property, previously taxed at $1564, rose to $1849 this year. By his calculations, the increase should have been “in the realm of $51,” not the $285 he was billed.
On a smaller lot, a slightly larger, single-family house Fagin built on a slab was billed at $4447. The disproportionate rate, Fagin feels, should be adjusted to $2260.
“I think they got the wrong valuation on that one,” he said.
At Monday’s board meeting, Merrill said his family’s home and buildings were valued at $62,000 but the valuation has risen to $138,032. His taxes doubled, he said. He added a 140 square foot roofed porch and the notice to build that structure triggered what he called “a full re-assessment (that has) not been applied equally to all properties in town.” Such an action is “improper,” he said. “I’d still be looking at the old valuation if it weren’t for the notice to build,” which caught the assessors’ attention.
McCormick said 30-50 properties were caught and went up in relative value because of notices to build that residents filed.
Fagin also objected to the “inequitable” approach. “As a businessman, I have a good sense of how these things should go. I’m just looking for a fair shake on taxation of my property relative to others,” he said.
Merrill presented selectmen with a comparison of 20 houses having the same square footage as his. The research showed wide disparity in the 2008 tax commitments. Merrill’s building value topped the list, by two and three times as much.
McCormick said, “To be honest, the way we’re approaching these, we’re trying to get our assessing records up to date. If this goes further, to the county commissioners, they’ll tell us if we have to make the changes.” McCormick also commented that assessors’ agent Jim Murphy believed a barn on Merrill’s land had never been properly assessed.
The property owner arranged to meet with Murphy and the selectmen to discuss his abatement denial. “I’m willing to amend my thinking if it’s reasonable,” Merrill said.
McCormick said the town hopes to have the townwide tax assessment completed in the next tax year.
Boynton said he “didn’t know anything about a signed contract” and added that he “didn’t want sand with rocks in it.”
While responding that the material “tested out with the best of them,” LaBelle acknowledged that one of his operators was digging too far into the deposit where there are rocks. “I’ve picked rocks out of there myself,” Labelle said.
Board chair McCormick said the contract doesn’t mandate that Weeks Construction be the supplier, adding, “I understand your frustration. If sorry does any good, we’re sorry. There was no malice in it.”