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Resident receives an abatement for having "junkyard" next door

December 23, 2010
TUFTONBORO — Tuftonboro resident John Ratcliffe has expressed frustration for several years at living next to Bill Holmes' property. Holmes' promises to house numerous unregistered vehicles and remove others, including a Greyhound bus and a crane that had been in place long enough for a tree to grow through it, came to fruition in June 2009, after the imposition of daily fines for noncompliance.

Holmes built a storage facility and removed numerous vehicles from his property, but as far as John and Melanie Ratcliffe are concerned, that is not the end of the matter. The Ratcliffes informed the Tuftonboro Board of Selectmen that they planned to ask for an abatement on their property taxes and vowed to take the matter to the Board of Tax and Land Appeals, claiming that Holmes' current collecting activities constitute an illegal junk yard.

"He's bringing a steady parade of junk down that road, and the activity takes place at night," Ratcliffe told the selectmen and assessor Dave Wiley during an 8 a.m. meeting on Dec. 13. "The law is very clear. The town has to take action. If not, it goes to the Attorney General."

Selectman Dan Duffy pointed out, "It's in a lot better shape than it has been before. I'm not sure what the town can do," and added, "It's his stuff and he's allowed to work on it."

Ratcliffe responded, "He's never worked on or fixed anything."

Chairman Carolyn Sundquist agreed, saying that she's "noticed weeds growing up around [a vehicle] and there was no evidence of his working on it."

"He's got hoarder's disease," said Ratcliffe, adding, "I honestly believe that if he was your neighbor, you'd be upset, too. Our intention is to retire and sell our home, but we have a letter from a realtor who said that we can't sell it as is…every person looked across the street and said 'absolutely not'… This is the Live Free or Die State, but you're not supposed to do this to your neighbors."

Ratcliffe said that the selectmen need to enforce the situation, for "it's unfair for me to fight this alone…I tried for two years, but was pushed aside. He hates me for it. Now he wants to put a pig farm beside my house. That's his method of revenge."

Ratcliffe said that when he bought the house a small number of vehicles were on the property and he had the assurance of Codes Officer Jack Parsons that Holmes had agreed to address the matter. He blamed his own "stupidity" for believing it.

Selectman Bill Stockman disagreed with the state's definition of a junkyard and said that he has talked to state representatives Dave Knox and Dave Babson in the past to no avail. "It's time for the legislature to address the regulation. There's property all around that falls into this category."

"Many wrongs don't make a right," shot back Ratcliffe. "There's not going to be an end to it, until a child gets trapped [in a broken down vehicle]."

In response to Stockman's opinion, Sundquist commented, "We haven't had complaints on others; we have a complaint on this one," and said that she felt the board should take up the matter one case at a time.

Stockman said that he was opposed to giving a tax abatement saying that there are others in a similar situation who might ask for the same. "They don't hold a candle to [this one]" said Ratcliffe. "[His junk] is visible to me."

Stockman disagreed with that claim, saying that there are plenty of trees between Ratcliff's property and Holmes'.

"It's on my property line," answered Ratcliffe.

Sundquist returned to the question of the abatement offering her opinion that Holmes' activities have reduced the value of the Ratcliffe's property and suggested a reduction in his taxes.

Assessor Wylie suggested reducing the 2009 assessed value by 19 percent to $325,000, resulting in a tax abatement of $686.50. Ratcliffe may file an appeal every year that the property is not cleaned up.

Duffy inquired what the cost would be to let the case go ahead to the BTLA. Wylie estimated it would cost around $500 for the town to prepare its case and said, "I can tell you now. They'd reduce it."

The motion to grant the abatement passed two to one, with Stockman dissenting.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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