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Manchester looks at ways to unload thousands of acres in Auburn

MANCHESTER — The Water Works department is considering disposing of thousands of acres of lakeside land in order to reduce an annual tax bill to Auburn that is approaching $1 million.

The department has retained a lawyer to explore how the nearly 4,000 acres it owns on the Auburn side of Lake Massabesic can be declared surplus and designated a permanent conservation easement, Water Works Director Thomas Bowen told an aldermanic committee Monday.

It&#';s the latest attempt by the agency to reduce its tax burden to Auburn. Two years ago, the state Supreme Court sided with Auburn in determining that Manchester couldn&#';t qualify for tax breaks based on a temporary conservation easement on the land. Last year, a bill that would have allowed Manchester to seek a lower assessment based on the land&#';s use as open space stalled in the Legislature.

&#';We can&#';t really think of another option that would allow us to have the land valued at what it really is — it&#';s conservation,&#'; Bowen told the Committee on Lands and Buildings Monday, referring to the prospect of declaring the land surplus and placing it into a conservation easement.

Auburn has resisted the city&#';s efforts to change the status of the land, which the town relies on as a significant source of revenue.

The city owns the land around Lake Massabesic as a buffer to protect its water supply. Bowen said in pursuing the conservation easement, the agency needed to be careful of &#';unintended consequences.&#';

Such a move could affect the city&#';s ability to draw water from the lake and control runoff into it, he said.

Bowen called the agency&#';s talks with a lawyer specializing in conservation easements &#';very preliminary.&#';

Alderman Joe Kelly Levasseur expressed support for the latest effort to change the tax status of the land. &#';It seems like a no-brainer,&#'; he said. &#';This year it&#';s a $800,000 bill. Next year it could be $900,000 or more.&#';

Bowen is expected to report back to the committee at a later date.