NASHUA — Several months after the city’s chief assessor position was eliminated amid criticism of the local assessing department, the mayor is now proposing that the position be reinstated.
Earlier this year, the chief assessor position, then filled by Jon Duhamal, was removed after an internal audit highlighted several problems, including ineffective management and a lack of internal policies.
Following the elimination of the role, city officials established a new administrative services division led by Kim Kleiner, the mayor’s chief of staff; the new division incorporates several city departments, including assessing.
Now, Donchess is proposing that $95,700 in contingency funds be used to hire a chief assessor for the remainder of fiscal year 2020.
“This is a step that has been recommended by the administrative services director, Ms. Kleiner, and something we have talked to the (New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration) about, and a step that now seems appropriate,” Donchess told the Board of Aldermen this week. “I think we have made enough progress in the assessing department in terms of making sure that things are systematized in the proper way.”
Better management practices and software changes have been implemented, according to Donchess, who said now is the best time to bring in a chief assessor since the department is functioning well.
“I think the delay has enabled us to ensure we can find the best person that we can now that the department has made a lot of improvements,” added the mayor.
Although his proposal was presented to aldermen this week, the request will now be reviewed by an aldermanic committee before the full board votes on the position.
The audit of the assessing department was ordered last year following citizen complaints and concerns, specifically surrounding allegations that the city’s assessing records do not appropriately capture new building work and home upgrades in a timely manner, that practices and policies are not in place and that some properties are significantly undervalued despite permits for large home projects.
A city resident, Laurie Ortolano, previously hired a private investigator to provide surveillance on one of the city’s assessors; according to the investigator’s report, the employee was spending hours driving around in his car aimlessly and sitting in his parked vehicle for extended periods of time.
More recently, the local police department opened an investigation into criminal allegations against the city’s assessing department.
Those allegations include concerns of potential mileage fraud and unexplained reductions to property assessments, police said earlier.
Ortolano approached police with her concerns, at which time the police chief spoke with Donchess about the allegations and the mayor requested that an investigation be opened.
According to Ortolano, there was a combined $24 million reduction in assessments to 13 city properties made on Oct. 10, 2018 — after homeowners and business owners were already notified of their new property valuations and just days prior to the final capture deadline for property cards in anticipation of the upcoming tax bills.
Kleiner told city officials earlier that the $24 million reduction in assessed value was related to a code change for schools and institutional properties, which needed to be adjusted.