OSSIPEE — Lakefront property owners, including some who had not filed requests for tax abatements, will receive tax relief this summer after the board of selectmen approved more than $123,045 in property tax rebates.
Checks either have gone out or will be sent to property owners whose values were adjusted following a review of assessments by Todd Haywood of Granite Hill Municipal Services. Haywood replaced former contract assessor David Wiley in January.
Out of 159 abatement applications received at town hall, 135 involved lakefront properties. According to assessing clerk Ellen White, the largest tax abatement check was for $6,062. A handful of property values increased; some remain unchanged.
Controversy over the town's tax rate for lakefront properties arose in 2005 when values rose by 33 percent, according to Ossipee Lake property owner Roland Cherwek. He and 62 other homeowners who experienced increases in values despite a real estate market downturn attempted to have their case heard as a class action suit. The New Hampshire Supreme Court denied their request for class action status earlier this year.
Cherwek will receive a tax abatement check for $1,300 for 2012.
"We finally got a victory here, where about 110 people now will get rebates ... we won the war, but I feel we were cheated out of rebates for 2010 and 2011," he said.
Homeowner Jim Fitzpatrick, another leader in the class action suit, said his abatement was about $1,000. His total land and home value decreased from $711,000 to $659,000.
"Given the whole situation, I think it was a fair settlement," he said.
Fitzpatrick credited Haywood's diligence and fairness.
"Now, on the positive side, I think the town made a good decision to get a new assessor. This guy works with you. I think going forward he will bring some semblance of fairness to the assessment process," he said.
Hayward said in its 2012 Equalization Ration Study, the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration determined that the waterfront properties in Ossipee were assessed 10 percent higher than the rest of the municipality. As a result, Haywood lowered the land rate on Ossipee Lake by 10 percent and then conducted field reviews. That review revealed other inconsistencies such as seasonal cottages being taxed as year-round homes.
"The more I looked into these, the more apparent it became the only way to truly ensure some semblance of continuity was to establish a set of parameters and apply them as uniformly as possible... I then looked at every property on the lake via drive-by inspection relying on the notes on the assessment record card and made land adjustments accordingly," Haywood told selectmen.
The adjustments mean the town will lose $7,916,200 in land value, according to a report prepared by assessing clerk White.
The town has funds available to cover the abatements, according to Selectmen Chairman Harry Merrow, but the long-range impact remains to be seen.
"Until we figure out what the budget is this year, we don't know. Every year we pick up more [taxable] properties though, so it depends," he said.