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State reviewing city assessing department

NASHUA – Concerns about the city’s Assessing Department have made their way from residents and property owners to the New Hampshire Board of Tax and Land Appeals, as state officials are investigating the “legality” of Nashua’s actions.

“I am always concerned when I don’t know what specific allegations I am supposed to be refuting,” Nashua Corporation Counsel Steve Bolton said late Tuesday. “To the extent the the BTLA has concerns about assessing, I’m sure we will be able to alleviate their concerns, and demonstrate that we do every thing in the proper manner and in accordance to the law.”

According to its website, the BTLA can “decide appeals when municipalities neglect or refuse to grant property tax abatements.”

The hearing is set for 9 a.m. Aug. 6 at 107 Pleasant St., Johnson Hall, Concord.

Bolton Responds To The Letter

The letter Nashua officials received from the board on Friday is signed by BTLA Chair Michele LeBrun, as well as board members Albert Shamash and Theresa Walker. The document makes reference to a tax appeal heard on Sept. 13, during which members heard evidence that Nashua had not performed a full “measure and list” of property in the city since the early 1990s.

“Commonly accepted standards for mass appraisal established by the International Association of Assessing Officers indicates physical characteristics of properties should be reviewed periodically (every four to six years),” board states.

Board members also have questions about whether the city is treating “sold” properties differently from “unsold” properties during the assessing process.

On the topic of the full measure and list, Bolton said it is true the city has not completed one since 1992. However, he maintains the Assessing Department officials continually update their information.

“I disagree that there has been no cyclical review done,” Bolton said. “I think it has been ongoing; there has been ongoing data being recorded every day.”

“Hardly a day goes by without corrections being made to data,” he added. “It is true that a full measure and list has not been done since the early 90s – and it is also true that the law does not require us to do that.”

The board’s letter also cites The Telegraph’s numerous stories about the city’s Assessing Department and functions.

Ortolano’s Turn

In the fall, Berkeley Street resident Laurie Ortolano began expressing concerns with the city assessing practices. She even later paid $8,000 to a private detective to follow one of the assessors she suspected of sleeping on the job. City leaders are still investigating the employee in question.

With the hearing less than two months away, Ortolano said she is pleased with the board’s decision to investigate Nashua.

“I’m very happy that the BTLA is calling the city in. We really struggled down here,” Ortolano said. “From my perspective, all my letters that I’ve given to the Board of Aldermen, city management and the Board of Assessors – I’ve probably sent at least six to eight lengthy letters with technical data.”

The hearing will allow not only for the city to present evidence refuting any sort of violations, but also for members of the community to accord evidence. Ortolano said she plans to attend the hearing and present some of her extensive research to the board.

“I’m very happy to see that they will allow any individuals to come forward and hold testimony,” she said. “I’m happy to have an opportunity to bring data to the BTLA, and I hope that I can finally get some answers.”

While Bolton said he is aware anyone is allowed to testify during the hearing, he said he is unsure how the city will answer constituents who might bring forth concerns he has not yet heard. He does, however, believe that the board will conduct a fair hearing.

Bolton said he is confident the city will be able to prove that there is nothing illegal occurring in the assessing office.

Mathew Plamondon may be reached at 594-1244, or at mplamondon@nashuatelegraph.com, @telegraph_MatP.