Published DateTo the editor,
Taxpayers of Center Harbor and all other taxing districts in the State of New Hampshire have legal recourse against local government action — without having to prove "significant personal harm". On January 1, 2013, HB-1510 went into effect, which amends RSA 491:22, and gives taxpayers a legal right to challenge local government action in Superior Court if they feel such action is unlawful or unauthorized.
In the past, taxpayers of a taxing district had a difficult time meeting the legal requirements for judicial review of local government action since "significant personal harm" needed to be proved. This left many taxpayers frustrated with the inability to intervene and challenge dictatorial local government administrations. Now, because RSA-491:22 has been amended, every taxpayer of a taxing district has broad authority to request judicial review.
Critics have argued that the change in law will have significant fiscal impacts on the court system, cities and towns, the attorney general and companies doing business with government. They have also argued that the law allows unlimited taxpayer lawsuits and that the implications are broad — where zoning board action, tax abatement rulings and other administrative decisions may be challenged. However, despite such concern and the uncertainty of its implications, the change in law brings an overarching benefit to the taxpayer, which arguably outweighs any of its costs, since taxpayers will no longer have to turn a blind eye in frustration of local government action — they can get relief — and minimize abuse of government.
While there are many uncertainties surrounding the change in law, one thing is for sure — government leaders will be subject to greater scrutiny and taxpayers can get the relief they deserve. Gone are the days of controversial decision-making blamed on a lack of resident involvement or for actions to be based on intergovernmental relations rather than the greater good of the people –at least we hope. The change in law forces government leaders to be more accountable to their constituents and govern in a more responsible risk-averse manner.
Unfortunately, the change in law can also be a recipe for government leaders to depend on attorneys for every decision they make — rather than rely on the sound judgment and common sense they were elected for. Let's just hope that residents take this fact and others into the voting booth this March at Town Meeting. Electing an official with a proven haphazard approach and controversial decision-making record will most likely have severe financial impacts on the town — and that is not in the best interest of any taxpayer.