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Laconia presents lawmakers with other side of campground trailer taxation issue

CONCORD — City officials appeared before the House Municipal and County Government Committee at the Statehouse yesterday in opposition to legislation —Senate Bill 333 — that would exempt from property taxes recreational vehicles stored or placed on a rented campsite at a recreational campground or camping park year around.

In January, SB-333 carried the Senate by a unanimous vote of 24 to 0. Nevertheless, a crowd of more than 150, dominated by campground owners, filled the committee room to overflowing for the hearing that ran for almost two-and-a-half hours.

After the Senate passed the bill officials in Laconia and Bristol were quick to raise concerns. 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, which would add 10 cents to the property tax rate.

At Bristol Shores there are 183 recreational vehicles with a total value of nearly $8 million representing some $160,000 revenue, in foregone revenue to the town.

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. Unlike other recreational vehicles, park models cannot be registered as motor vehicles or transported on public roads without a special permit.

The issue of taxation 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, confirming the city's authority to tax 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, like Laconia 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.
Sen. Jeanie Forrester (R-Meredith) introduced the legislation at the request of the New Hampshire Campground Owners Association, whose members, together with some municipal officials, were troubled by the inconsistent application of the law. Some are taxed as real estate 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.

The bill was intended to mend what Forrester called a "crazy quilt" and introduce consistency in the treatment of recreational vehicles by local assessors by clearly distinguishing them from "manufactured housing" and simply exempting those in campgrounds from property taxation.

However, in response to the concerns expressed by Laconia and Bristol, an amendment, crafted by the Henry Veilleux, the lobbyist representing the campground owners and sponsored by Representatives Jeffery Shackett (R-Bristol) and James Belanger (R-Hollis), was presented to the House committee yesterday.

Veilleux told the committee that the amendment would exempt only those recreational vehicles less than eight-feet, six inches in width, leaving all wider units liable to property taxation, effectively authorizing municipalities to tax only 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.
Mayor Ed Engler of Laconia described the goal of exempting recreational vehicles as "admirable," insisting that "Laconia does not tax recreational vehicles and no one else should either." However, he said that the bill, by exempting units permanently situated on campsites from taxation, turned campgrounds into "safe harbors."
Distributing photographs of recreational vehicles embellished with porches and decks sitting on landscaped sites and surrounded by outbuildings, Engler said "these are not intended to be moved." He read from the ruling in the Hack-ma-Tack case, where the judge held "these trailers are more akin to a summer camp dwelling than to a camper intended for travel. A summer camp dwelling is a building."
Engler recommended that the committee revisit the definition of a campground, questioning whether it was intended to apply to recreational vehicles that were improved and never moved.
City Manager Scott Myers said that while the city "appreciated the amendment," it would still leave $3.5 million in property tax revenue on the table. He explained that the city does not tax any recreational vehicle registered as a motor vehicle or trailer or an unregistered recreational vehicle that has been moved within six months.
"We have had very few complaints in Laconia," Myers said, implying that the city has complied with the court decisions without encountering the issues that appear to have bedevilled relationships between local assessors and campground owners in other municipalities.
For example, Neal Cass, the town administrator in Hopkinton, said that it is difficult to identify and track the owners of recreational vehicles in order to bill and collect property taxes, especially when units change hands, since no deed is recorded.
Kevin LeCasse of New Hampton, who owns a campground in Effingham , said the local assessor handed him a stack of tax bills for the owners of recreational vehicles in his campground, expecting him to collect the taxes. When the owners questioned their bills, he said they approach him, not the town officials who assessed the property and prepared the bills. Moreover, state law stipulates that the owner of the campground may be assessed for the taxes left unpaid by the owner the recreational vehicle left on the property.
Robert Bradley of Epsom was among several campground owners who feared that taxing recreational vehicles left on campsites year round would have adverse impacts on their individual businesses and the tourist industry. One owner said that he lost a quarter of of his seasonal campers when the property tax was first levied.
Sylvia Leggett of Robert's Knoll Campground in Alton, said that allowing campers to store their vehicles was part of her business plan, but since the town began taxing recreational vehicles she had begun to fear losing her customer base.
Joe Lessard of Municipal Resources, Inc. hearkened back to the comparison with a summer camp, cautioning the committee that the bill, with or without the amendment, would lead to "inequitable treatment of similarly used properties," a constitutional question. He conceded there was some confusion in administering the tax as directed by court, but said the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration is seeking to resolve the problems. He recommended the committee report the bill "inexpedient to legislate."

Last Updated on Wednesday, 02 April 2014 01:24

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Parent-excused absences said a big problem at LHS

LACONIA — High School administrators reported last night that from 2011 to 2013 the number of students who were truant or absent from school without a reason has dropped by nearly 50 percent.

In 2011 the district reported 1003 truancies while in 2013 there were 456.

Administrators told the School Board last night that positive interventions and improving the school culture were some of the leading reasons for the improvements in attendance.

As to the number of students who needed to be disciplined, the number of out-of-school suspensions dropped from 72 in 2011 to 52 in 2013. The number of in-school suspensions had also dropped from 364 in 2011 to 203 in 2013.

Administrators said they added an administrative detention period in 2013 as well as a student support system that helped 535 students overcome some issues that they were having either in school, at home, or otherwise.

"It's all about climate, culture and consistency," said Principal Jim McCollum who took over as high school principal in the 2012-2013 school year.

McCollum said the biggest problem facing the high school right now is excused absences and those are more difficult to control. In 2013 there were 2,596 excused absences.

For the purposes of record keeping, and excused absence is defined as a student missing one or more blocks of school with parental consent or a student that is more than one-half hour late for school again with parental consent.

He said that if a parent calls the school and notifies it that their son or daughter will be absent or late, then there's not much the school can do about it.

McCollum said the part of the positive behavior intervention system at the school constantly reinforces the notion that a student has to show up in order to be productive.

He said statistics show that overall a student who misses six or fewer days in a school year will have a grade point average of 3.3 or higher. A grade point average declines as the number of absences — excused or unexcused — increases.
"It's what we hear from employers and it what we hear from the community college. You have to show up," McCollum said.

Commenting from the audience, retired civics teacher Richard Coggin said that was the best presentation he's heard in about five years.

Coggin called out some of the existing board members for letting good attendance records slide and and disciplinary incidents increase under the administration of former Principal Steve Beals.

Long-time member Joe Cormier said he didn't necessary agree with Coggin stating that his view was "skewed."

However Coggins assessment got a back-handed approval from the newest board member Mike Perssons, who said that the recent increase in the number of programs and academic offerings as well as the leadership of the current administrative team at the high school have made a big difference in the truancy and discipline issues.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 02 April 2014 01:08

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Belmont couple comes home to find intruder

BELMONT — A Cross Street man who came home to find an intruder in his house suffered a hand injury during his encounter with the burglar, according to affidavits submitted by police.

The affidavits said some blood was found on Robert Martel's pants after police caught him on Interstate 93 after a police chase that began on Route 3 in Tilton.

Police said Martel, 30, whose last known address was 336 Central St., Apt. 24, in Franklin had allegedly parked his SUV in the driveway of the Cross Street home and entered it. When the couple returned from running some errands, they pulled their car in behind his in the driveway blocking him from leaving.

Martel is charged with Class A felony burglary for breaking into the house and hurting the victim, and was also charged with auto theft for taking the couple's Ford Taurus.

After appearing by video in the 4th Circuit Court yesterday, Martel was ordered held on $100,000 cash-only bail. His defense team reserved the right to argue bail at a later day. Martel asked the judge for less bail but was told to speak with his attorneys and not to address the court directly through the video.

The victims told police that they thought they had company when they arrived home at 12:27 p.m. Friday. But when they entered the home they came face to face with Martel who was allegedly carrying a pillow case filled with their belongings.

The man yelled to his wife to call 9-1-1 while Martel allegedly ran past the two into the driveway. The male victim wrestled briefly with Martel who allegedly stole his car and fled at a high rate of speed.

The victim's parked car was blocking Martel's SUV in the driveway.

Lt. Rich Mann said two Belmont officers were at the victim's home within 90 seconds, and offered medical assistance to the male victim

Police issued an alert for the stolen Taurus. Tilton Police Chief Robert Cormier heard the alert and spotted Martel traveling west on Route 3 by the Tanger Outlets. He said he was "at the right place at the right time" and was driving an unmarked cruiser.

Cormier followed the car onto Interstate 93 and officers from Belmont, Northfield, Tilton, Sanbornton and State Police were able to stop Martel just south of the I-93 Exit 19. One of the southbound lanes was closed during the arrest.

Police said some jewelry reported stolen from the home was found inside the victims' stolen car.

Additional conditions placed on Martel require that should he post bail he is not to consume any alcohol or non-prescribed drugs, must not go south of the intersection of Route 106 and Route 140 so that he stays away from the victims' home, and is to live a 336 Central St. in Franklin.

A representative of the N.H. Judiciary call center said Martel has previous convictions for criminal trespass and unlawful possession from about 10 years ago and a driving while intoxicated in 2012 and a bail violation in 2013 – both out of Merrimack County.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 01 April 2014 01:26

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Laconia man charged with kicking holes in emergency room wall

LACONIA — A city man is being held on $1,000 cash bail for allegedly kicking two holes in a wall in a section of a hospital  emergency room after being taken there for evaluation by police Saturday night.

Affidavits said Noah Rafuls, 20, of 21 Academy St. had gone to Lakes Region General Hospital on his own but had walked away from the emergency room while he was being seen for "suicidal and homicidal" statements.

Hospital staff notified police, and an officer located Rafuls walking down Gilford Avenue. When the officer stopped and asked Rafuls to talk with him he reported that Rafuls continued to walk away and was swearing at the top of his lungs.

Rafuls allegedly kicked a street sign and was making so much noise that neighbors were coming out of their homes to see what was happening.

A police supervisor joined the officer and Rafuls continued to walk away from them. The two officers each grabbed one of the man's arms and tried to calm him down.

Affidavits said Rafuls struggled aggressively, so he was taken to the ground and handcuffed. Police returned him to the emergency room where he continued to swear and scream at hospital and Genesis staff.

At some point, hospital staff was able to calm him to the point where they asked the police to remove his handcuffs. Police did so. However, as soon as the cuffs were removed, Rafuls allegedly began to scream profanities.

He allegedly kicked the stretcher against the wall and kicked two holes in the wall of the emergency room.

Police said hospital staff said they were unable to control him because of a shortage of staff. Two officers returned to the observation room and ordered Rafuls to lay on his stomach or he would be Tased.

Rafuls complied and was taken to the Belknap County House of Corrections where he refused the services of a bail commissioner.

Judge Jim Carroll ordered him held on $1,000 cash for the disorderly conduct and the criminal mischief complaints, but ruled that if Rafuls could be admitted to an in-patient mental health care facility, the bail would be reduced to personal recognizance.

Carroll also ordered that the court can monitor his progress once in treatment and that once he is released his bail will revert back to $1,000 cash.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 01 April 2014 01:04

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