NASHUA — It has been nearly a year since Laurie Ortolano began voicing concerns about alleged discrepancies within the city’s assessing department, an effort which ultimately resulted in a barrage of audits, investigations and staff changes.
NASHUA — Following citizen complaints and the start of an internal review, Mayor Jim Donches…
NASHUA — City officials have asked an outside law firm to investigate allegations that a cit…
The New Hampshire Board of Tax and Land Appeals will be investigating allegations of inequities within the city’s assessment process -- a small victory for a local woman fighting to correct mismanagement issues within the Nashua Assessing Department.
Her work, however, is not yet done, Ortolano said this week. She has spent about $12,000 of her own money on the project, bringing her findings to city leaders, the public and the New Hampshire Board of Tax & Land Appeals — complete with a private investigator’s report, local property card data and other documents detailing what she says is not only mismanagement, but inequities within the city’s assessing process.
“There is a lot of fluff going on, but we are not getting to the technical issues,” Ortolano said of the changes that have been made since her critiques started last August. “They have taken an extremely legalistic approach, and I feel some people are being hurt by this system, especially the elderly, young people in debt and those working multiple jobs.”
Ortolano, 57, has lived in Nashua for about six years. The semi-retired engineer has a degree in mechanical engineering. She home-schooled both of her sons through high school.
Her mission to correct inequities within the assessing division started last August after KRT Appraisal conducted a citywide revaluation, although she began raising concerns after a previous revaluation of her home on Berkeley Street that she says was inaccurate.
“I tried to address it with the office over a period of several years,” she said.
Ortolano’s home in the North End neighborhood dominated by upscale older homes is currently assessed at $651,900, according to the city’s online database.
She contends the Berkeley Street properties were a microcosm for all types of issues, including unverified sales data, questionable abatements and claims of favoritism.
“There were just red flags everywhere,” she said, saying she was prompted to research property cards throughout the city, not just in her own neighborhood.
She said the discoveries were overwhelming, so she took her concerns to the Board of Aldermen and eventually the Board of Assessors. She ultimately filed a formal complaint with the state Board of Tax & Land Appeals just four days before the city’s own internal management audit on the assessing department was released.
The audit, which reported ineffective management, was conducted by John Griffin, chief financial officer, and Kimberly Kleiner, former chief of staff to the mayor; the audit resulted in a 28-page report that detailed several recommendations.
“The major findings of the management audit are: ineffective management of the assessing department, lack of internal policies to guide operations, disparate software systems utilized by the department are not optimized, (and) a full measure-and-list of all properties within the city has not been conducted since the early 1990s,” states the report.
Mayor James Donchess took the report’s recommendation and eliminated the position of chief assessor, a post held by Jon Duhamel. The post was replaced with an administrative services director, now filled by Kleiner.
Ortolano then spent $6,000 to hire a private investigator to provide surveillance on Greg Turgiss — currently the only certified supervisor in the city’s assessing office.
The private investigator’s report claims that Turgiss had been napping and driving around the city aimlessly during work hours. In response to those allegations, city officials then hired an outside law firm to investigate further — an investigation that is still underway.
In a previous statement, Turgiss said there are two sides to every story; he also encouraged the city to conduct its own investigation, saying he is confident that his behavior will satisfy the city’s scrutiny.
Ortolano has also incurred legal expenses to help prepare paperwork and Right to Know requests, and fees to obtain property cards from the assessing department.
She has taken heat from the public about her own research, but says it has yielded significant data.
“There is a greater good here. There is something terribly wrong. This is the right thing to do,” she said of her ongoing initiative.
The ultimate goal, she said, is to bring fairness and equity to the city’s assessing process, which she believes will not be possible until a technical assessing chief is hired.
A public hearing with the Board of Tax and Land Appeals has been set for Aug. 6. Anyone can attend and provide testimony. Ortolano plans to be there.
Also, Mayor Donchess is requesting a $1.3 million bond for the city to conduct a full measure-and-list property revaluation — one of several recommendations made in the internal audit.
“I think the recommendations are sound, and it is my intention to implement them,” Donchess said earlier. “The goal here is to make sure the assessing function, going forward, works effectively and accurately.”
Those adjustments should be a priority, and should result in a stronger assessing department, he said.