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Joyce Endee

Bethlehem working to resolve property assessment issues

August 15, 2012
BETHLEHEM — Town officials have focused on resolving a problem related to property assessment documentation. Bethlehem was informed of issues with the 2011 assessment process in an April letter from Josephine Belville. She is a property appraisal supervisor with the Department of Revenue Administration (DRA).

DRA has been concerned about inaccurate and incomplete data on the appraised value of some properties in town. The town's appraisal work lacked comprehensive analysis to support new land values, the state argued. Additionally, missing site visit data led the state to question whether appraisal visits were ever made.

Purvis and Associates is the contractor that the town uses to perform and document property assessment activities.

The select board has discussed the assessment problem at public meetings for several weeks. Last week, Chairman Jerry Blanchard said Bethlehem is "taking the necessary steps. We want to make sure we get ourselves back in compliance."

In a May letter to the town, DRA noted that Bethlehem was out of compliance with state statutes and Part Two, Article Six of the state constitution. The constitutional wording requires "there shall be a valuation of the estates within the state taken anew once in every five years."

At a June 21 select board meeting, Fred Smith of Purvis, along with Belville and David Cornell of DRA, updated the board. Cornell informed the board that documentation must support that appraised values are fair and equitable. He told the board that data DRA received from Purvis did not meet that standard.

With this update, the board sent a letter to Purvis on June 27. The company was informed that the town believed the lack of system updates was a central part of the problem. The select board required Purvis to meet six specific documentation requirements by September 1, 2012.

As an additional step, the selectmen recently agreed to go before New Hampshire's Board of Land and Tax Appeals, Blanchard said last week.

Based on July documentation in the town office, there was concern with documentation on about 550 properties in the town across tax maps 204 through 210.

Blanchard said that Purvis has been making good progress on meeting the town's demands. The number of properties with appraisal questions has steadily decreased in recent weeks. "I feel very confident we can move forward," Blanchard said. Town documents show that Purvis has been making regular reports to the town.

The problem has led some on the select board to question whether Purvis is the best option for the town. At the July 9 board meeting, selectman Mark Fiorentino suggested that the town may wish to consider outsourcing the assessment process.

Later in July, selectman Sandy Laleme said she believes the town's contract with Purvis should be renegotiated. Minutes from the meeting state that Laleme "feels that the Board has made a great effort in assisting them {Purvis} to do their job."

Even with his positive view of recent progress, Blanchard has shared frustration with his fellow board members. At the July 23 meeting, he suggested that Purvis had to be held accountable for errors the state found. With a 5-0 vote, the board elected to hold off paying Purvis until review of the company's contract with the town.

Blanchard sees light at the end of the tunnel. In a conversation last week, he thanked the state for its help. "I am pleased with the relationship we have with the DRA." Blanchard believes that the town's work with DRA and the appeals board will solve the appraisal issues.

Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
Garnett HIll
Varney Smith
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