Ted Siefer's City Hall: Taxing issue resolved, but alderman still angry
As department heads go, Bob Gagne, the Assessors Board chairman,is one of the more helpful and easygoing guys at City Hall. So it was a surprise a couple weeks ago to find him in the cross-hairs of Ward 12 Alderman Keith Hirschmann. "I don't like the way you're treating people," he told Gagne at the last aldermen's meeting.
The "people" he was referring to were Normand and Priscilla Robidoux, an elderly couple in his ward who have been fighting City Hall since the assessing office denied them an elderly exemption on their property tax bill last year. The couple had been granted the exemption from 2007 until 2012, but were denied it in 2013 after Gagne undertook a review and determined that the kind of trust the couple had placed the property in made it ineligible for the exemption.
The couple hired a lawyer and sued the city. The Board of Tax and Land Appeals ruled in the couple's favor earlier this year. The city appealed, and last week the board again sided with the couple.
Without attempting to parse the intricacies of trust and estate law, the court agreed with the Robidouxs' attorney that they were still the rightful owners of the property and deserving of the exemption, even if the home was in an irrevocable trust.
Gagne won't be appealing the ruling to the state Supreme Court. In a letter to the board last week he wrote: "We consider this case 'closed' and will process the taxpayer's refund, with interest."
At the same time, he noted that the appeals board "denied the taxpayer's request for costs and attorney fees."
Gagne told me that his office will review some of its decisions in light of the ruling, but he didn't think it would have major financial consequences.
"In general terms, it's probably not going to have a huge impact because this particular trust has some features in it that you don't see other trusts use," he said.
Hirschmann, for his part, said the fight with the couple should have never begun in the first place, and had cost them $5,000 in legal fees.
"He was wrong," Hirschmann said of Gagne. "And he cost the city some money and the taxpayer some money."
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Assistant Superintendent Dave Ryan no longer has to worry about putting his Hooksett home on the market - or having to reapply for his job.
The school board on Monday resoundingly rejected a motion to repost the position, after the board voted last month to end its short-lived policy of requiring top school administrators to take up residence in Manchester.
The motion to repost the position was made by school board member Deb Gagnon Langton. "There were a number of individuals who did not put in applications because of that clause," she said. "This is just to be fair to all of our employees."
Having the city's highest paid employees live in the city has long been a priority for Mayor Ted Gatsas, and while he said he didn't think the job should be reposted, he made his displeasure with Ryan known.
"I can tell you, I won't be voting for your contract," he told Ryan. "It's not that you're not doing a good job, but I believe strongly in residency, and when you take a position, you keep it."
Only board members Langton and Art Beaudry voted to repost the job.
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For years, school board members have talked of getting rid of the reviled "portables" on school campuses. Set up as stop-gap measures to meet the district's space needs, the portables have become seemingly permanent fixtures at many schools.
Well, the school board finally gave itself a deadline for ditching the portables. The board passed a motion Monday calling for the elimination of all portables by the summer of 2017.
Of course, it will be another matter where the district finds the money to build approximately 27,760 square feet of brick-and-mortar classrooms - that's the amount of space offered by the district's 18 portables.
Just how limited the district's new construction budget is, was underscored the same evening when Mayor Gatsas told the board that it was time to part ways with state-owned Stark House on North River Road.
A year ago, Gatsas and school officials were eager to get their hands on the facility for use as an alternative education center for troubled students. The state agreed to lease the center to the district for a token sum.
"At first blush, it looked like it was going to work, but it was too costly when we had facilities in there," Gatsas told the board, referring to the district's building experts. "We're not going to use it for the foreseeable future. The state was good enough to give it to us. I think we need to give it back to them because they want it."
Ted Siefer is the City Hall reporter for the New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @tbsreporter.