More claims against Assessing Department

Telegraph photo by MATHEW PLAMONDON Properties throughout the city are alleged to have unfair assessments performed by the Nashua Assessing Department, including one owned by Christopher Woods on Lockness Drive.

Editor’s Note: The Telegraph continues to investigate the allegations Nashua property owner Laurie Ortolano makes regarding what she believes are unfair assessments. There will be more stories exploring these allegations.

NASHUA – Christopher Woods, owner of a home at 26 Lockness Drive, said he sides with Berkeley Street resident Laurie Ortolano in her efforts to uncover alleged problems within the Nashua Assessing Department.

Woods said he initially became aware that properties might not all be assessed by the same standards when he noticed his taxes had been raised. He said he used the city’s website to compare a few properties in the area.

“I noticed the houses in the same area, that were similar, were assessed at 80 percent of market value, while I’m being assessed at 100 percent,” Woods alleged.

After a bit more research, he allegedly found he was paying a similar amount in property taxes as his sister-in-law. He said her house is larger than his.

“I basically noticed that my taxes were almost the same as my sister-in-law’s, whose house in significantly bigger than mine, which is a 960 square feet, compared to hers which is 1,500 square feet,” Woods claimed.

Woods said he believes the houses’ assessed values should be more consistent with the market value of the property. While he doesn’t mind paying more in taxes, he doesn’t believe he should be subject to the same amount of property taxes as those who own larger homes.

Though Woods has not yet issued a formal complaint against the city office, Ortolano has. The complaint alleges acts of deceit, fraud, bad faith and unsworn falsifications, in addition to poor work performance, negligence, violations of confidentiality and as acts of sales chasing by those in the department.

The action Ortolano filed earlier this week with the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration asks the commissioner to investigate misconduct allegations against Nashua Chief Assessor Jon Duhamel.

Assistant DRA Commissioner Carollynn J. Lear said Thursday confidentiality policies prohibit the department from identifying either the complainant or the assessor accused of misconduct. However, Ortolano said she had no problem identifying Duhamel because his name came up at a public meeting.

“My biggest concern is the chief (assessor) isn’t in the office enough,” she said. “He doesn’t (work) a 40-hour week. His absence is notable.”

“I discussed it at a Board of Assessors meeting … the chairman of the board told me to bring my formal complaint against the chief assessor to the DRA commissioner,” Ortolano said. “It’s in the minutes” of the meeting.

She left open the possibility she may file a complaint against one or more other assessors, but wanted to file the one against Duhamel in timely fashion.

Ortolano filed her complaint using the DRA’s “PA-71” form, a four-page document that requires the complainant to describe the allegations of misconduct in detail.

The form is a sub-section of the agency’s ASB 300 rule, which addresses the certification process for assessors. This includes background checks, education and experience requirements, according to the DRA.

The rule also governs any “unethical conduct and disciplinary actions pertaining to certified assessing personnel.”

Lear said complaints against assessors are rare at the DRA. Until Ortolano filed her complaint, Lear recalled seeing just two in her five years associated with the agency.

As far as when a complainant can expect a ruling, Lear said it varies, but “the two I’m familiar with took many, many months … We take our time (because) we’re dealing with someone’s professional certification. We want a fair decision,” she added.

The names of the complainant and accused assessor remain confidential from the beginning, and that doesn’t change after the ruling is handed down, Lear said.

The ruling, which is also confidential, notifies the parties of the commissioner’s determination of whether the accusations are warranted, and if so, what type of sanctions the assessor will face.

Lear said in one case with which she is familiar, the sanction required the assessor to provide notice to the city or town, or private assessing firm, that he or she had been sanctioned.

Lear also emphasized that an investigation, or the nature of the ruling, has no bearing on anyone’s property assessment.

“Whether someone’s assessment changes or not isn’t part of this process,” Lear said, referring to the misconduct investigation. Likewise, she added, the DRA “isn’t able to do anything relative to someone’s property assessment or their property tax bill.”