Agape Food Pantry asks selectmen to waive back taxes

January 16, 2014
OSSIPEE — Will the local food pantry get property tax relief from selectmen here or will the non-profit have to pay $14,638 in back taxes?

State law, NH RSA 72:23-C, V states that "buildings, lands and personal property of charitable organizations and societies organized, incorporated, or legally doing business in this state, owned, used and occupied by them directly for the purposes for which they are established" are exempt from paying property taxes. To be considered for the property tax exemption, the charitable organization must file a form with the town by June 1 of every year giving information about its purpose and its finances.

The one word in the law that appears to be sinking Agape Food Pantry further into debt is "occupied." Kevin Straughan who founded and runs the pantry has asked the town's board of selectmen to waive the back taxes for 2011-2013. He maintains that although the pantry was not operating at its current location on Route16 in West Ossipee at the former Pine Hill Plaza across from the Pizza Barn during most of those years, the fire gutted building was under continuous renovation. Parts of the building that had not been damaged by fire were being used to store items belonging to the charity and being used to support their operations at Ossipee Valley Bible Church.

The Pine Hill Plaza location was purchased by Agape in March 2011. The group applied for a charitable property tax exemption but because the building was not occupied as of April 1 the request was denied.

In 2012 the charity again applied for the charitable property tax exemption but once again, because renovations were still in progress and the building was not being occupied, the request was denied.

The same thing happened in 2013 because the occupancy permit was not issued until Dec. 4, 2013, making it "official" that the charity was now using the building for charitable purposes.

Renovation of the Pine Hill Plaza building was a long, tedious, and expensive venture. It is unlikely that the building would be open now if it hadn't been for a sudden surge last year of volunteer efforts and many businesses donating materials. The renovation efforts were also plagued by vandals who broke in and stole installed copper piping that led to the building being flooded.

For at least the past decade, Agape Food Pantry put in a request for funding to help support their charity and have won approval of Town Meeting voters. Last year, the voters gave the charity $9,500. Rather than ask Town Meeting voters to support their charity this year, Straughan said the pantry is enjoying the success of the adjoining thrift shop that will hopefully fund the future of the pantry. What he is hoping for in return, however, is for the board of selectmen to waive the back taxes owed. Jan. 13 was the second meeting Straughan attended asking for this relief on behalf of the charity. Selectmen held off again on making a decision, asking instead that Straughan clearly spell out, in writing, what he is asking for and that he file an abatement for the 2013 taxes. It is too late to file an abatement for the 2011 and 2012 taxes. Straughan maintains, however, that the board of selectmen ultimately has the decision making authority regarding property taxes and the ability to waive the taxes if they choose to.

In other selectmen's meeting news from Jan. 13, it appears the town will soon have better communications during emergencies. Commonly referred to as "reverse 911," many towns and cities across the state and across the country have systems set up that will automatically dial resident phone numbers to send out emergency notifications. Instances when the system is typically used include flooding danger, Amber Alert notifications of missing children, police standoffs or searches for a dangerous suspect, etc. Though the selectmen here have kept it on their weekly meeting agenda, little progress had been made towards implementing the program in Ossipee.

There are two types of free Enhanced Notification Systems offered to towns by N.H. Division of Emergency Communications. In the first system, Ossipee public safety officials can submit a form to E911 in Concord detailing the emergency situation they need broadcasted. E911 will then place a call through the database of landline phones alerting all townspeople to the situation. Ossipee is already signed up for this service.

Under the direct access system, two appointed town representatives are given username/password to directly log into the ENS system. From there they can type out the message that needs to be sent out to townspeople. The representatives can also choose whether to send to specific neighborhoods or a blanket announcement to the entire town. Using 911 and GIS mapping data, the system will send out the message to the selected recipients. Townspeople can also go on the website and sign up to have these alerts sent to them via text message, cell phone call, or email (for those that do not have landline telephones or those that wish to be contacted in an alternate manner).

Given that many people do not have landline phones and rely on the cell phones, selectmen indicated the direct access method would best suit Ossipee. They asked the town administrator to find out how Ossipee can get signed up for this sooner rather than later.

Voters at Town Meeting can expect to see a warrant article requesting $562,000 for the first year of the town's three-year ambulance contract. Selectmen voted to award the three-year contract to CarePlus. Ossipee could save $130,000, bringing that first year cost down to $432,000 if Effingham selectmen can convince voters in that town that first year contract with CarePlus for $130,000 is a good idea for Effingham. The $130,000 is likely to come as quite a shock to Effingham taxpayers who were used to paying $25,000 annually for an ambulance contract with their previous provider.

According to publicly available records from Carroll County Dispatch, 119 patients were taken by ambulance to the hospital from Effingham between Jan. 1 and Dec. 22, 2013.

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