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Land leases hit with tax bills for first time

November 18, 2009
TILTON — Several River Road properties are back on the tax rolls, but the people who have been leasing the land all along say they weren't aware they should have been paying taxes and are looking for abatements.

A number of people who have leased land on River Road for years without being taxed were a bit surprised when they opened their mailboxes earlier this month and found property tax bills for 2009.

"We've had no prior notification that there (were) any taxes connected to that land lease," said Lynn Wilder of Belmont, who received a bill for $1,307.

Wilder came to the Board of Selectmen last week to plead her case, saying that the she was never made aware that she should be paying taxes on the land when she and her husband Glen agreed to lease it from the state.

"The fact that you hadn't been taxed before was an oversight of the town," Selectman Norm Boudreau said.

Neither Tilton's prior assessing company nor the Department of Environmental Services had made the town aware that the land was being leased by the state and that it should be taxed. When Avitar Associates came on board to do a revaluation, the company informed the town about the land leases.

"We were remiss in not taxing the properties before that had leases on that land," board Chair Katherine Dawson said.

Wilder said she has leased the land for four years and didn't feel it was fair that they suddenly had 30 days to pay their tax bill, with no prior notice.

"The law doesn't require us to pre-warn you, so to speak," Dawson said. "(It wasn't until September) that we discovered we could tax those properties."

Wilder said she has already given up the lease, but the selectmen said she will still have to pay her taxes from January 2009 until the time she relinquished the lease.

"That's 11 months of responsibility I had no clue about," said Wilder, who pays $200 a month for the lease.

Selectman Sandy Plessner pointed out that the lease agreement that the Wilders signed stated that all taxes would be the responsibility of the lessee. Wilder argued that there were no taxes on the land at that time, and that had they been informed about the taxes, they probably would not have agreed to lease the land.

"At the time we entered the contract, we were assured there were no taxes," Wilder said. "(If we had known) we would have made a different decision."

Because the selectmen cannot forgive taxes but can abate them, they suggested that Wilder pay her bill and submit an abatement application.

"I'm not looking for an abatement, I'm looking for the taxes to be removed," Wilder said.

The selectmen reiterated that they weren't allowed to remove taxes, and Wilder asked if she could get an extension – also not allowed, they said.

"I have less than 30 days," Wilder said. "That's $1,300 before Christmas for a family that hasn't planned on a bill of this magnitude. That's a pretty uncomfortable place to be right before the holidays."

After Wilder left, Dawson said she wasn't sure why a value of $62,500 was set on the Wilder's leased property, considering the land's limitations. Because of lake levels in that area, she said, there are several times during the year that Winnisquam isn't accessible.

"I don't think we're done with this," Dawson said. "We have to have a discussion with Avitar about this … I have a little more investigating to go."

Plessner said that most River Road property lessees had been into Town Hall to discuss the bills, and that all had been advised, like Wilder, to seek an abatement.

Martin Lord and Osman
Salmon Press
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