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City officials seek to fix bill exempting RVs from property tax

LACONIA — City officials and state lawmakers are scrambling to fix a bill that threatens to shrink the city's total assessed valuation by $10 million, trim its property tax revenues by $200,000 and add 10 cents to its property tax rate.

Senate Bill 333, sponsored by Sen. Jeanie Forrester (R-Meredith), would exempt from property taxation recreational vehicles remaining in any one city, town or unincorporated place for fewer than 45 days as well as recreational vehicles stored or placed rented on a rented campsite at a recreational campground or camping park no matter for how long.

The bill carried the Senate by a unanimous vote of 24-0 in January and is scheduled to be heard by the House Municipal and County Government Committee of Tuesday, April 1, at 10:30 a.m.

The statutory definition of a recreational vehicle includes motor homes, vans, pickup campers and tent trailers as well as recreational trailers of 400 square feet or less. The definition includes so-called "park models," which may be 12-feet and 36-feet long with pitched roofs and gabled windows that resemble miniature cottages with room to sleep as many as 10 people.

Jon Duhamel, the city assessor, has counted 423 recreational vehicles parked at a dozen campgrounds year around with an aggregate assessed value of $9,994,500. They have been taxed for years, but would become exempt from property tax if the bill were enacted. He estimates that the city would forgo more than $220,000 in revenue.

Meanwhile, at Bristol Shores on Newfound Lakes in Bristol, Christina Goodwin, the assessing assistant, said there are 183 "park models" with a total value of nearly $8 million that would become exempt from property tax, representing almost $160,000 in foregone revenue to the town. In Alton, Tom Sargent, the assessor, said that currently there are 147 units with a value of $900,000, but a campground with space for another 147 is in the offing. "Because our tax rate is so low the revenue impact is only about $12,000," Sargent said," but that pays for a part-time secretary."

Laconia City Manager Scott Myers contends that recreational vehicles permanently parked in campgrounds do not comply with the intended definition of a recreational vehicle, but are more akin to seasonal camps and cabins of fewer than 400 square feet on private lots, which are liable to property taxation. He points out that these recreational vehicles are not registered as either motor vehicles or trailers, a sign that their owners, most of whom reside in another state, do not intend to move them. Likewise, he notes that manufactured housing is defined as a unit of 320 square feet or more, while units that qualify as recreational vehicles, which are in campgrounds throughout the year, measure between 369 square feet and 408 square feet. He questions if the distinction is sufficient to tax one but not the other.

Apart from the loss of revenue, Myers claims that those living in these units avail themselves of municipal services, if only on a seasonal basis, and should contribute an equitable share to their cost.

Forrester introduced the legislation at the request of the New Hampshire Campground Owners Association, whose lobbyist Henry Veilleux this week proposed an amendment intended to mitigate the fiscal impact on municipalities. The amendment would exempt only those recreational vehicles less than eight-feet, six inches in width, leaving all wider units liable to property taxation.

Veilleux said that this provision would entitle municipalities to tax the "park models," which represent the bulk of the assessed valuation of recreational vehicles. He estimated that the amendment would enable Laconia to recapture at $6,568,000, or 66 percent, of the assessed valuation. The amendment would leave all the units at Bristol Shores taxable.

Myers expressed reservations, explaining that the issue was not confined to the "park models." He said that other units meeting the statutory definition of a recreational vehicle were effectively permanent, if seasonally occupied, structures, many with porches, decks and other extensions. "They are not intended to be moved," he said.

The issue arose in the wake of two court decisions. In 1999, the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled that a truck trailer could be assessed and taxed as a building "if by its use it:  (1) is intended to be more or less permanent, not a temporary structure;  (2) is more or less completely enclosed;  (3) is used as a dwelling, storehouse, or shelter;  and (4) is intended to remain stationary." Two years later the Belknap County Superior Court applied this standard to eight trailers at the Hack-Ma-Tack Campground at The Weirs, when the City of Laconia taxed eight trailers on the property as buildings.

On the strength of the court decisions, the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration (DRA) urged municipalities to apply the criteria strictly. Some did, but others found the cost of assessing the units and billing their owners, many of whom reside outside the state, outweighed the revenue collected.

Forrester said that she received calls from campground owners and municipal officials in different communities troubled by the inconsistent application of the law. In particular, she found that recreational vehicles parked at the 117 campgrounds in the state were treated differently by different municipal assessors. Some are taxed as real property while others are not. Some municipalities bill the owners of the recreational vehicles while others, unable to identify the owners, bill the owners of the campgrounds. Her bill, she said, is intended to bring order to what she called "a crazy quilt."

Last Updated on Thursday, 20 March 2014 12:29

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Bicycle Exchange Proposed for Downtown Laconia.

LACONIA — An informational session on a Laconia Area Bicycle Exchange will be held Monday, March 24, from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the conference room at the Lakes Region Child Care Center at Health First.

The goal of the program, proposed in January by John P. Rogers of the Better Together organization, is to find a location in downtown Laconia where as many as 40 bicycles can be stored which will be available to clients of social service agencies who can use them to provide themselves with transportation to jobs and medical appointments as well as for recreation.

Rogers said the clients will be provided with vouchers from social service agencies such as Genesis to use the bikes for free or possibly for rent. They will also be provided with helmets and safety brochures along with air pumps and repair tools.

He is looking for a good, safe location in the downtown area which would be open a couple of days a week, and for volunteers to organize and guide the Bike Exchange and says he has already received support and encouragement from places, such as Piche's Sports.

For more information on the program or to RSVP at Monday's meeting call Rogers at 524-5288 or by cell at 603-630-7571 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Last Updated on Thursday, 20 March 2014 12:13

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Committee planning LHS renovation to begin meeting on March 25

LACONIA — The first meeting of the Joint Building Committee for the project at Laconia High School is scheduled for March 25 at 3 p.m. at Harvard Street School.

The installation of a fire suppression system in the older portions of the high school as well as some additional ventilation was made possible when the district qualified for a Qualified Zone Academy Bond for $1.8-million interest-free bond.

The Joint Building Committee is comprised of the members of the School Board who serve on the Building and Grounds Committee – Beth Arsenault, Malcolm Murray and Joe Cormier — plus members of the Laconia City Council, and administration teams from both the city and the school.

Councilors Bob Hamel, Henry Lipman and Armand Bolduc are the City Council representatives for the Huot Technical Center renovation project.

District Business Administrator Ed Emond said the purpose of the March 25 meeting will be to organize the committee and set a timetable for their meetings and the project.

Work on the project is expected to begin once school ends in June.

Last Updated on Thursday, 20 March 2014 12:07

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Jail planners look to cut costs of new facility below $30-million

LACONIA — Meeting for the first time since January, the Belknap County Jail Planning Committee last night discussed a concept plan which has the potential to reduce the size of a proposed 180-bed, 94,000 square foot new correctional facility by about 10,000 square feet.
Gary Goudreau, a committee member and an architect who developed the plan, said he was motivated to look at a way of reducing the square footage by a letter to the editor written by Hunter Taylor of Alton which appeared recently in the Laconia Daily Sun and an article he had read abut a 210-bed jail in Virginia which was estimated to cost between $20 million and $22 million.

After lengthy discussion, during which the committee's chairman, County Commissioner Ed Philpot, reiterated that the committee's goal all along has been to drastically reduce the $42.5 million estimated construction cost of a new facility, the committee decided to prepare a presentation to the Belknap County Convention for a $360,000 supplemental appropriation for a schematic design for the new facility.

"We should be able to push that below $30 million,'' said Philpot, who was joined in his support for moving ahead now on the schematic design by Belknap County Corrections Superintendent Dan Ward who said that it is the essential next step and Alida Millham, former chairwoman of the Belknap County Convention, who told Ward ''a schematic is what you need.''

Late last year the committee developed a proposal for a $3.5 million bond issue which would include a 48-bed temporary housing unit, which would cost $1,584,681 for a three-year contract; $500,000 for a schematic design for a new facility, and $1 million for replacing the HVAC system at the current jail. Millham said that she had a feeling that the temporary housing unit proposal wouldn't fly as part of a bond issue package, and Ward said that he would forgo the temporary housing part in order to have the schematic design work only done this year.

Former Meredith Selectman Miller Lovett said he had met with Hunter Taylor, who last year suggested that a new facility could be built for $15 million, and said that he felt that the committee and community members opposed to the high price tag were working their way toward common ground, but that the Ricci Greene conceptual plan raised a ''red flag'' for critics and shouldn't be placed front and center in any discussions with the County Convention.

Millham said she was pleased that Goudreau came through with his new plan. "We have been in a stop mode and need to restart with what we've got,'' she said.

Goudreau said the savings in his plan range from 10 percent to 28 percent for the four different units and that using a triangular dayroom model brings them closer to 35 square foot per prisoner requirement, whereas the Ricci Greene plan is based on 70 square foot per prisoner.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 April 2014 01:01

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