Concerns linger after audit of Assessing Dept.

Telegraph photo by MATHEW PLAMONDON Laurie Ortolano, who owns property on Nashua’s Berkeley Street, addresses the Board of Aldermen during the Thursday meeting.

NASHUA – “I’m very upset. We all knew. You had to be a moron not to know that there was a problem in the Assessing Department,” Nashua resident Laura Colquhoun told Board of Aldermen members during a Thursday meeting that lasted well into the evening.

The Management Audit of Nashua’s Assessing Department was performed by Chief Financial Officer John Griffin and Kim Kleiner, who serves as chief of staff to Mayor Jim Donchess, from Nov. 20 to March 1. It proposes sweeping changes to the structure of the department, as well as procedures and policies.

The report made recommendations to eliminate the chief assessor position and re-establish the administrative services director, as well as to perform a full measure of property in the city for the first time since 1992. Still, some residents and property owners do not believe this goes far enough.

After a special meeting during which the report was presented, residents expressed feelings of concern regarding the findings and recommendations put forth by Kleiner and Griffin. The feedback from the public ranged from disappointment in the audit, to questioning whether changes proposed would achieve the improvement that is hoped.

Colquhoun, of 30 Greenwood Drive, expressed major dissatisfaction, saying she only got involved when she realized there was such a vast disparity in land valuations. She said information on the city’s website is either missing blocks of data, or there have been no land values assessed to certain properties.

Telegraph photo by MATHEW PLAMONDON Nashua Chief Financial Officer John Griffin presents the findings from the Assessing Department audit to the Board of Aldermen during a Thursday meeting.

“I’m very disappointed because it’s not what I thought the audit would be about,” Colquhoun said in addressing the report. “I assumed that this audit was going to look at the problems within the assessing department as far as the garbage within the website.”

Others said they were concerned with whether Griffin was the right person to help usher in changes to the department.

“The man (Griffin) didn’t have enough time to do his job, but here we are moving forward now and we’re supposed to trust that the people who are going to make this right are the people who don’t have time,” said Michael O’Connor of 42 Berkeley St. “The CFO didn’t have time to oversee the management issue in the office he is responsible for, but now he has time to fix it.”

Berkeley Street property owner Laurie Ortolano, who has spoken at length about her struggles with the city – going as far as filing a formal complaint to the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration in February, agreed with O’Conner’s concern over Griffin’s role in the Assessing Office’s reform.

Ortolano also raised major concerns regarding where the Board of Assessors fits in the structure of the assessing function, be it in terms of procedure or policy. Referencing the department’s organizational chart presented in the audit’s report as well as the mission statement on the cities website.

“The Board of Assessors does not seem to know where they fit in that chart. One of their mission responsibilities on their website is to review all policy and make sure all policy is implemented,” Ortolano said to the Aldermen. “When I saw them three months ago, I came with their mission statement and I read to them, ‘You’re job is to implement policy, review policy and make sure its happening.'”

With the Board of Assessors deferring to Jon Duhamel, who formerly held the position of chief assessor, regarding certain policies, Ortolano wonders where these board members now fit into the department’s organizational structure.