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Resident raises concerns over Nashua assessing practices, claims 'gross incompetence'

Union Leader Correspondent

October 09. 2018 10:08PM
The Nashua City Hall Plaza. (Kimberly Houghton/File)

NASHUA — A city woman is claiming that although building permits are listed on local property cards, some home improvements are not being captured by the assessing department, which is resulting in disproportionate assessments for certain neighborhoods.

“We got so screwed over on our assessment,” said Laurie Ortolano, maintaining that it has become neighborhood warfare with similar homes being assessed with vastly different values.

KRT Appraisal, however, believes the city’s assessing records do appropriately capture new building work and home upgrades. The city’s chief financial officer agrees, saying several procedures are followed to ensure that residential home improvements are calculated into assessments.

Ortolano has spent the past two months reviewing property cards and other records that she believes are inconsistent, and she is asking the Board of Aldermen to review local assessing practices.

“Review of the data indicates serious deficiencies in the methods used to determine the assessed values of property, which is the primary method for distributing the city’s tax burden. The effect of a disproportionate assessment is a disproportionate tax bill,” she said.

Ortolano claims that building permits do not appear to be recorded in a timely manner, that permitted work does not appear to be consistently recorded and permits appear to be significantly unvalued when submitted to the building department and subsequently undervalued by assessors.

“Not every building permit results in a change of assessment,” explained CFO John Griffin. “This is not a cookie-cutter method.”

He said the staff in the city’s assessing department is highly trained and licensed, and has written policies to guarantee that building permits and certificates of occupancy are updated on property cards, and that final assessments are based on those cards with a computer-aided mass appraisal system.

“The property cards are appropriately updated,” he stressed, adding KRT Appraisal used those cards to go through a camera system software for the recent citywide revaluation.

According to Ortolano, the assessed value for her home at 41 Berkeley St. is now nearly $694,000, and is equivalent to about $210 per square foot compared to $140 per square foot for similar homes on Berkeley Street.

She recently pulled 100 residential property cards throughout a cross-section of the city, not just in the north end. According to Ortolano, 49 out of 82 building permits were never captured in the assessments, including some properties with large building or bathroom additions.

“At best case it is gross incompetence — at worst case it is real ethical issues,” said Ortolano.

The city’s chief assessor, Jon Duhamel, referred all questions to the mayor’s office.

“We have an excellent assessing department,” said Griffin. “We have policies and procedures that we follow.” In addition, he said there is an independent Board of Assessors that reviews the data.

Ken Rogers at KRT Appraisal said his team was hired to complete drive-by reviews of the properties, not to inspect the interior of residences for assessing purposes.

“Most of the permitting work is on the property cards,” said Rogers. “We look at it as if they did all the inspections on the permits and they are capturing what is out there. A lot of times it is not a dollar-for-dollar recapture.”

He explained that if a $100,000 permit is granted for a finished basement, that does not necessarily mean that the property will be assessed $100,000 more.

Ortolano plans on filing an abatement appealing her newest assessed value. According to Griffin, about 160 homeowners in Nashua met with KRT Appraisal to ask questions or raise concerns about their newest assessment values.

General News Nashua

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