TILTON — After three years of litigation and a two-day bench trial, Superior Court Judge Larry Smukler has denied a request for a property tax abatement made by the owners of AutoServ of Tilton for the year 2010. The ruling was issued yesterday following a two-day trial in July in the Belknap County Superior Court.
The owners had said that their $4,811,100 property value assessment for tax year 2010 was too high and they felt the value should have been closer to $3,308,000.
The land and building of AutoServ Tilton is owned by Paul Sr. and K. Brigid Gaudet. The business is also managed various family members, including children Paul Gaudet, Jr. Dennis Gaudet and Donna Gaudet Hosmer.
Smukler's opinion was largely based on the fact that the town of Tilton offered expert testimony and the Gaudet's, while quite knowledgeable about the car business, were not licensed assessors or appraisers and did not provide "expert" testimony to boost their case.
In an abatement case, the burden of proof lies with the petitioner, in this case the Gaudet family.
"We know market value but since we're not appraisers, we couldn't get it in as testimony," said Donna Gaudet Hosmer yesterday in response to Smukler's ruling.
The 2010 assessment was determined in 2009 when the town hired Avitar Associates and they conducted an update. When the owners challenged the assessment, the assessor, Loren Martin, reviewed her work.
She testified in July that she examined the physical location of the property (just off Exit 20 from I-93) as well as the building as it was in 2010, taking into consideration the general area and the values of similar surrounding properties. She said the greatest and best use for the building was commercial.
Martin said she reviewed her assessment primarily by using the "sales" approach — or by finding "comps", or sales of properties with characteristics similar to those of AutoServ Tilton.
She used the sale of Laconia Harley Davidson in Meredith and determined a square foot value of $183.45. A second property used by Martin was a Subaru dealership in Keene that sold in 2008 at a square foot value of $117.51.
A third property was a car dealership in Nashua that sold in 2010 for $115.24 per square foot, a fourth property in Manchester that sold in 2009 for $166.39 per square foot and a fifth car dealership in Plaistow that sold for $132.68 per square foot.
Martin said she concluded that the Manchester sale and the Plaistow sale represented the closest comparison to AutoServ Tilton based on their use and features and came up with a value for AutoServ of $128.95 per square foot.
She said she also factored in a "cost" approach and determined the fair value for AutoServ in 2010 was $6 million. Assessed for $4.8-million in 2009, Martin testified she felt the property was undervalued for that year.
The Gaudets said that their property could not have sold for more that $3,400,000 in 2010 and that because it drops off sharply to the Winnipesaukee River, it has limiting characteristics that the others did not. Paul Gaudet also said under cross-examination that he hadn't attempted to market the property in the past five years.
During their testimony, the Gaudets said they were involved in ownerships of other properties in the area, that they understood property and value, but ultimately couldn't provide any expert opinion regarding why their abatement should be granted.
Paul and Dennis Gaudet each testified that the assessment of their business in 2010 should have taken into consideration the economy at the time of the assessment. They noted that car sales dropped to near record lows throughout the country and that many car dealers were forced to close.
They acknowledged under cross examination that at AutoServ Tilton they didn't loose any of their franchises and were able to survive the economic downturn -something Gaudet Hosmer said yesterday that the town should have taken into consideration.
"We are a good corporate citizen," she said, adding that she and her family were very disappointed at the lack of accommodation offered to them from the town of Tilton. "This is our home."
"I'm very disappointed at the way this played out," she continued. "The methodology was flawed. They didn't take into account the state of the economy."
Gaudet Hosmer said at one point during the mediation portion of the three-year battle, her family and Tilton Selectmen Katherine Dawson met and came up with a solution that was agreeable to all parties.
She said that because a second town selectman was unable to attend the mediation because of car problems, the Board of Selectmen rejected the agreement her family reached with Dawson, forcing them to go to trial.
"They pulled out. Said they weren't going to do it," she said.
"I'd like to know what they spent on legal fees," she said yesterday, noting that the amount the town spent fighting a good corporate family business was probably more than the amount of taxes the town got by fighting them for so long.
"We firmly believe we're paying more than our fair share," she said.
The Gaudet family has filed for a second abatement for 2012 property taxes, also in Belknap County Superior Court.
Gaudet Hosmer said they will continue with that lawsuit and this time will pay the $5,000 they need for a professional appraiser.
"We are not withdrawing the new lawsuit," she said.
Last Updated on Friday, 12 September 2014 01:10
Last Updated on Thursday, 11 September 2014 12:58
BELMONT — Land use technician Rick Ball said the Phase I-B archeological dig along sections of the proposed Lake Winnisquam Scenic Trail will begin within the next two weeks.
He said the town had feared that because the project needed to have a historical and archeological examination, that the N.H. Department of Transportation would make the town wait to start until the beginning of the federal fiscal year, which is October 1.
"There are certain sections (of the proposed trail) that have peaked their interest," Ball said.
He said an archeological team from Louis Berger & Associates, which is the engineering firm designing the trail, will use on of their own divisions to dig about 90 test pits along the trail to look evidence of archeological and prehistoric artifacts.
The archeological exploration is yet another speed bump in the recreation trail that will connect Mosquito Bridge on the Belmont-Tilton border to the Laconia border.
Advance archeological studies for public works projects are not unusual in the Lakes Region. Archeologists typically look for significant evidence of American Indian and prehistoric activity.
At March town meeting, voters authorized the town to take matching grant money from a proposed Phase II and add it to the Phase I portion giving them enough money to complete that portion of the trail.
Last Updated on Thursday, 11 September 2014 12:46
BELMONT — The Shaker Regional School Board voted Tuesday night to pay $8,000 for a demographic study similar to the one they have been doing every other year for the past eight.
The vote gave administrators the ability to contract with Peter Hoffman who will have the study completed at the earliest in March or April of 2014.
The board has some discussion about having a different economist do the study but Business Administrator Deb Thompson said the others she contacted in the past charged nearly twice as much.
The most recent demographic study performed by Hoffman and released in 2013 predicted a "bubble" or swell in the Belmont Elementary School enrollments beginning in 2014. He based his predicting in part of higher birthrates in Belmont that seem to buck the state-wide trend of declining birthrates.
"Enrollment could consistently exceed the school's core capacity starting in 2014, approaching or exceeding 500 student for at least few years while dropping off staring in 2017," wrote Hoffman.
His predictions prompted a discussion at the school board level about possible class shifting and the possibility of finding space for three additional class rooms.
Last night Superintendent Maria Dreyer noted that the "bubble is upon us" but with Belmont Elementary enrollments at 448 students the school is at its maximum capacity but it appears nowhere near the 500 number predicted by Hoffman.
School Board Chair Heidi Hutchinson said she would like to see at least one more demographic study done. She also said she would like some current data from the administration about how many Belmont/Canterbury students are enrolled in private schools.
Dreyer said that it would also be good to know how many Shaker students were being home schooled but she said due to a change in the reporting requirements at the state level the most recent information she has is from last year when there were 41 students from 26 families being home schooled.
Last Updated on Thursday, 11 September 2014 12:28
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