Homeowner wants answers from city

NASHUA – Laurie Ortolano of 41 Berkeley St. believes she and other city residents are seeing their properties unfairly assessed, leading to disproportionate increases in the value of certain homes – and causing unreasonable hikes in taxes.

Ortolano has questions about the city’s record-keeping and data entry practices, particularly with the Nashua Assessing Department.

Ortolano’s allegations regarding the city’s activities are prompting The Telegraph to file multiple inquiries, including Right to Know requests, with the Nashua Assessing Department, as well as other departments within the city.

Ortolano seems to have conducted plenty of research, compiling stacks of property cards, while creating storyboards and documents to make a comparative analysis of properties throughout Nashua.

Though she has brought these concerns to the attention of city officials – including officials in the Mayor’s Office, the Assessor’s office, and Chief Financial Officer John Griffin – Ortolano said there have been few answers provided on why these discrepancies are occurring.

Through her work, Ortolano said she has seen many discrepancies regarding the ability of officials in the Assessor’s Office to thoroughly record and track data. This includes the updating of property cards, the exclusion of building permits into the assessed value of home, and the length of time that elapses between assessments.

Using her house as a baseline, Ortolano said she notice that of the 10 properties sold on Berkeley Street from 2013 to 2017, only three of the properties were verified by MLS.Com. She believes this raises the question as to the consistency with which the city is updating data on home sales.

Some of those listings which remain unverified had sales dates ranging from September 2015 to September 2017.

After pulling more property cards, Ortolano noticed another trend: many properties had building permits that were either not captured by city officials, or captured permits that she believes were significantly underestimated. She researched properties on Chester Street and compared them to work done on her house prior to her closing in 2013.

Her house had a $5,000 permit captured, which she believes – with all the work included – would have been a value of as much as $30,000.

Cards pulled from Chester Street that were similar to her property showed that one property had a permit pulled in 2016 for $177,000, but the property card was only changed by $4,000. Another property had a permit of $40,000 that closed in 2014, but had no change in assessment on that house’s property card.

Ortolano said these permits and assessment values lead to questions as to how the values are assessed and why the work done is not equivalent to the permits that are pulled.

Officials at City Hall provided The Telegraph a document that outlines procedures, including the process of capturing building permits. It states that all building permits must be run in CityView – the software used by the assessing department – on the fourth or fifth of every month. As to processing and filing the permits, there was no monthly or yearly date provided regarding when they should be closed.

In a response, city officials said they are familiar with the concerns. They said questions about pulling of permits have been investigated, while they also said they take concerns brought to their attention very seriously.

“Assessing is an ongoing complex process and it’s heavily data driven,” Deputy Corporation Council Celia K. Leonard said in response to the concerns. “It’s regulated by state laws that the city tries to meet every day.”

Leonard said Mayor Jim Donchess and members of the Board of Aldermen are taking these concerns very seriously. They are currently investigating these issues and Griffin will be presenting a report on the investigations next meeting, she said.