Energy and Environment

Devastating Fires and the New Hampshire Supreme Court!

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Tom Thomson
- Orford
Devastating Fires and the New Hampshire Supreme Court!

Lately it seems every other day I read about another fire that has destroyed someone’s home or business buildings. In a recent article in the Union Leader it was reported in a 24 hour period that there were fires in 10 different communities. On Jan. 5th of this year a four alarm fire in Springfield destroyed a 230,000 sq. ft. planner mill building at Durgin and Crowell Lumber Co. On Jan. 8th in Lancaster, AB Excavating and Logging Co. lost their 60 by 120ft. building.

When a fire destroys either your home or business building; the feeling for the owners and families are the same; it’s a gut-wrenching, emotional feeling of loss that’s hard to explain unless you’ve been through it. We witnessed this first hand when a family member lost his dream house that burned to the ground just before moving into it on the 3rd of July 2010.

Shortly thereafter he met with the local Selectboard with a request for a tax abatement on the building so that he would not have to pay property taxes on the burned out cellar hole for the next eight months. The Orford selectmen denied his request and suggested he appeal to the State Board of Tax and Land Appeals, which he declined to do as it could have taken over a year just to have a hearing. He paid property taxes on the burned out cellar hole for eight months. Talk about kicking someone when they are down.

I took it upon myself to try to change this so that no one in the future had to experience the additional agony of paying property taxes on their house, or business buildings after they were destroyed by fire or natural disaster. Former Senator Jeanie Forrester helped by sponsoring Senate Bill 382, “an act allowing for proration of property assessments for damaged buildings”. This bill was passed and signed in to law on June 4th, 2012 two years after our family member’s house burned to the ground.

Today, any taxpayer who experiences a devastating loss of their home or business buildings can go to the web-site of NH Dept. of Revenue (DRA) and down load the two page form with instructions. Once on the DRA’s web-site click onto “forms” and scroll down under Document Number until you find “RSA 76:21 Proration Application to Municipality” or you can call DRA phone# 1-603-230-5001 and ask for this form to be mailed to you.

You may be asking why I mention the NH Supreme Court in my title above; it is because they made the right court decision on this important issue. Google “Robert Carr vs. Town of New London” to read the whole story. A quick summary is that the house was hit by lightning and burned to the ground; the owner could not use the house 272 days out of the 365 in the 2014 tax year, which the town had the house assessed at $688,000. The Town of New London denied the request of the landowner after filing a “Property Tax Abatement” form because it was late. The Superior Court sided with the landowner so the Town of New London appealed it to the NH Supreme Court and on May 17, 2017 the Supreme Court sided with the landowner and now “Prorated Assessment for Damaged Buildings RSA 76:21” is the law of the land.

My thanks goes out to all who helped move this piece of legislation through the legislative process to become law to help our tax payers through a very difficult time when they have lost buildings that may have been a family home or business. Also thanks to the NH Supreme Court for making the right decision, it won’t make anyone whole again after a devastating loss but it will help in a small way to ease the pain and send the right message that in NH we care about our taxpayers. No one should ever have to pay property taxes on a building (home or business) that was lost and is unusable after a Fire or Natural Disaster.

Tom Thomson – Public member of NH Assessing Standards Board
Orford, NH
March 20, 2018

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