Arbo seeks exemption from GIlford property tax on religious grounds

GILFORD — Arbo Ministries International of Texas filed an application early this month for a religious property tax exemption for one of the two town properties it owns.

The non-denominational ministry owns a developed piece of property on 14 Curtis Road and a 6.59-acre undeveloped lot across nearby Cherry Valley Road but the ministry has only requested the exemption for the Curtis Road property.

Many locals refer to the property as the Guild Farm, after the prominent family that liver there for decades. Others call it the Smiling Hill Farm.

Arbo's application states its primary mission is to "teach and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ through every means possible — ie books, CDs, radio, Internet and public services."

According to the application, the property is 2.88 acres and 55 percent of its usage is for the continual support of a parsonage, 10 percent of its use is for ministry offices and 35 percent is used for a prayer center.

The ministry initially proposed and filed an application with the Zoning Board of Adjustments for a special exception to zoning regulations to allow for a "church" in an area zoned residential.

As part of a compromise, the Planning Board agree to allow Arbo Ministries instead to operate a permitted "home-based business" with some restrictions in exchange for a withdrawal of its application from the Zoning Board for the special exemption — which it did.

According to Planning Board member Norm Silbur, who made the motion to allow the home business that passed unanimously, the ministry agreed to a number of physical conditions, including that no more than 30 percent of the property would be used for the ministry.

He said yesterday, that he wasn't surprised to learn that the ministry applied for the property tax exemption, but that in his opinion, it should be limited to a base of 30 percent of the assessed value of the home — $590,530 as of 2014.

Property tax records from 2014 indicate the property is still classified as a single-family home.

Ultimately, the Board of Selectmen will have the final say. In smaller communities, there is generally not a separate Board of Assessors and selectmen serve as the official assessors.

Town Administrator Scott Dunn said the application for the tax abatement is being researched by contract Assessor Wil Cocoran who will make his recommendation to the board.

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Alton couple sues Starbucks after woman severely burned using coffee maker

SUPERIOR COURT — An Alton couple is suing Starbucks Coffee Company because a French-press coffee maker it manufactured was allegedly defective and caused second-degree burns to the woman who was using it.

In their product liability suit, Leslie and Joshua Ruff said that in early December of 2013 they purchased a rose-gold glass coffee press at the Starbucks at the Tanger Outlet Center in Tilton. The coffee press was manufactured by Starbucks.

On January 28, 2014 reads the suit, Starbucks recalled the coffee press because it was dangerous. "Specifically, 'the glass carafe can fall out of the metal frame and plastic base of the coffee press and break or shatter, posing lacerations and burn hazards to consumers.'"

The Ruffs claim they returned to the store a couple of times after purchasing the press but were never told about the recall.

The lawsuit paperwork claims that on July 15, Leslie Ruff attempted to use the coffee press to make coffee in a manner wholly consistent with the manufacturer's intended use and instructions.

"After (Leslie) Ruff poured hot water in to the press, the bottom fell out of the press, the glass carafe fell, and hot liquid spilled onto (her) abdomen and anterior thighs.

As the result of the burns, Leslie Ruff claims she suffered severe and permanent injuries, including extreme pain suffering, numerous medical procedures and therapies, large and continual medical expenses, emotional distress and mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, potential lost earning capacity, second degree partial thickness burns, permanent scarring, damage to her sebaceous and sweat glands, neurological damage, heightened sensitivity to hot and cold, increased risk of cancer and other diseases, and continuing pain.

She is seeking damages for the above injuries, long-term pain and suffering, and legal expenses.

Her husband is seeking damages for loss of consortium.

The couple claims Starbucks breached implied warranties, violated the Consumer Product Safety Act, violated the Consumer Protection Act, violated the Magnusson-Moss Warranty Act and was negligent.

The suit was filed earlier this month and Starbucks has not yet filed a response.

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Belmont owed $410,000 for ambulance runs

BELMONT — At the request of the Board of Selectmen, Fire Chief David Parenti is preparing a full accounting of the ambulance service in an effort to stem the increase in outstanding unpaid charges, which has risen from $188,041 in April 2011 to $410,240.

The proceeds from ambulance services are deposited in a special revenue account for the purchase of equipment for the fire and emergency medical services, any shortfall in revenue will ultimately be shouldered by property taxpayers. Parenti laid a significant share of the responsibility for the outstanding debt at the feet of insurance companies.

Parenti explained that the department, like many others in New Hampshire, contracts with Comstar, a Massachusetts billing service, which mails the invoices and collects the payments. He said that Comstar bills private insurance companies, Medicare, Medicaid and workers compensation carriers as well as private individuals and collects the payments. Parenti calculated that the collection rate approaches 70 percent.

Comstar, Parenti said, seeks to collect unpaid bills, but after a reasonable time refers the most delinquent and stubborn to First Financial Resources, a collection agency, or to the Belmont Fire Department. Some individuals enroll in payment plans while others may file a "hardship request," asking the Selectboard to forgive the charges. Parenti said that there are "not a lot" of hardship requests and legitimate requests are rarely denied. So far the town, unlike others in the state, has not turned to the small claims court.

Parenti said that the biggest problem arises from insurance companies that send payments to the insureds, who simply cash the checks, but not to the town, which is left out-of-pocket. State law (RSA 415:18-v) reads "Each insurer that issues or renews any policy of group or blanket accident or health insurance that constitutes health coverage and that provides benefits for medically necessary ambulance services shall reimburse the ambulance service provider directly or by a check payable to the insured and the ambulance service provider subject to the terms and conditions of the policy, plan, or contract."

"It's not a legislative issue," said Parenti. "It's an enforcement issue. It's frustrating, difficult and costly." As president of the New Hampshire Association of Fire Chiefs, Parenti said that departments across the state are wrestling with the issue.

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DeVoy says enhanced nursing home revenue budget still $500k under 2014 actual

LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioner Dave DeVoy (R-Laconia) says that he is comfortable with the revised 2015 revenue estimates that he and fellow commissioner Hunter Taylor (R-Alton) developed during an all-day work session on February 13.
The two men increased the revenue estimates for the county nursing home by over $700,00, from $8.1 million to $8.8 million, which DeVoy pointed out is still $500,000 less than the actual 2014 revenue total of $9.3 million.
DeVoy said that he and Taylor decided that the increase was reasonable, given that budgets developed by previous commissioners had sharply underestimated revenues in several accounts for a number of years. For instance one of the categories which had been budgeted for $750,000 by the former commissioners, nursing home revenue coming from the state, had been averaging $1,250,000 over the past four years.
''We couldn't understand why it was so low. And we couldn't get a good explanation of why it was that way so we increased it by $250,000, to $1 million,'' said DeVoy.
County Finance Director Glenn Waring said that he couldn't speak for the former commissioners but agreed that one of the reasons revenue estimates were so low might have been because the state doesn't finalize its budget until June — in odd numbered years — while county budgets are usually finalized in March.
DeVoy said that other major changes included adding $370,000 to the Medicaid Home Care line, bringing it to $3,370,000, which is $200,000 less than was actually received in 2014, and adding $100,000 to the Medicare Part A line to increase it to $1 million.
He said that the change was made in anticipation of having more short-term (Medicare paid rehabilitation) residents at the nursing home, for whom reimbursement rates are higher.
Those changes in revenue estimates are not supported by Commission Chairman Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton), who has said they are unrealistic, and who has offered a budget plan of his own which would cut eight jobs, including the county administrator and finance director, and reduce the increase in the amount to be raised by taxes from $1.4 million to $454,051, a 3.3 percent increase over last year.
Burchell unveiled his plan at Monday night's Laconia City Council meeting but DeVoy told council members that it does not represent the view of the majority of the commission. He said that the plan which has been presented to the Belknap County Convention calls for a $13,931,030 increase in the amount to be raised by taxes, a 1.96 percent increase, which is in line with the 2 percent increase sought by county convention Chairman Frank Tilton (R-Laconia).
The convention will resume its consideration of the proposed county budget when it meets Monday, March 2 at 6 p.m. at the Belknap County complex. It has scheduled meetings for the following two Mondays as well.

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