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Private Road Taxpayers Being Unfairly Assessed?

This article is about whether private road taxpayers are being unfairly assessed on their property values, in Dover and Barrington.

Three years ago, Norman Allie of Dover, who lives in a new Private Road Development known as Wyndbrook at Dover wrote a note to the assessor’s office in Dover, New Hampshire asking if they get a break for not being provided regular road services, including plowing, cleaning, drainage maintenance, and paving. According to Mr. Allie, the City of Dover said that in theory, they should be provided a discount, but that they currently aren’t. In fact, a letter produced from the City of Dover reads:

“Dear Mr. Allie,

I am sorry to have missed the point of your initial letter to me regarding adjustments to assessments as a result of receiving fewer services from the City as compared to other properties City-wide. Hopefully, this letter will help clarify the matter.

The straight answer to your question is: no.”

The letter goes on to read that assessments are based on property value and that assessors are regulated by the State of New Hampshire’s Department of Revenue Administration – and that essentially the City of Dover has no control over what it charges its residents. However, comparing the responses from Dover to the responses from the Town of Barrington, you will see that there is a clear difference in the responses. At this point, it appears that taxes are assessed in these two different geographical areas differently, which isn’t more than 30 miles apart from each other. If the City of Dover was telling the truth, then why isn’t the Town of Barrington regulated in the same way?

According to Conner MacIver, the Barrington Town Administrator, RSA 231:59 reads:

“Expenditure. – The money so raised and collected shall be expended in repairing class IV and class V highways by the agents elected or appointed for the purpose, under the direction of the selectmen.”

But he also added that properties on Private Roads and Class VI Roads in Barrington, NH are assessed at 10-15% less in Land Assessments, depending on the pavement surface.He claims that Private and Class VI Roads that have a gravel surface get a reduction of 15% on Land Assessment.In 2018, residents approved $25,109,093 to be raised by taxation.$4,290,366 for the Town, $18,108,870 for the school, and $2,709,857 for the county.The Town’s portion is 17% of the tax rate.The Highway Department budget is 28% of the Town’s total budget.This means that ~4.75% of taxpayer money goes to the Highway Department and pays for road maintenance.The Town Administrator feels this is fair, not to mention that residents who live on non-Town maintained roads will also use other roads that are maintained by the Town.

According to Barrington’s Town Administrator,

“While the tax rate is the same for all property owners in Barrington, the assessment is not.In order to correct for market factors (such as living on a road not maintained by the Town) our assessors adjust values in the following way:For a piece of property on a Class VI or private road, the land value is reduced by 10%.For properties on a gravel road (Class V, Class VI or private), the land value is reduced by 5%.That means that properties on gravel, Class VI or private road, are assessed at 15% less than a property on a paved Class V road.Not all communities adjust the assessment of properties on Class VI and private roads, but Barrington does.”

The New Hampshire Private Road Taxpayers Alliance is working on confirming the claims made by the Barrington Town Administrator. Their initial read is that the claims are not accurate, so they are investigating these claims. If the claims made by the Barrington Town Administrator are found to be accurate, this suggests that if the City of Dover was applying assessments in the same way that Barrington does, residents on Class VI and Private Roads in Dover would not be paying as much in taxes. But since the City of Dover is assessing properties located on Private Roads at the same levels as properties located on Public Roads, it should be providing the same services (i.e. plowing, cleaning, drainage maintenance, and paving) that it provides to City-maintained roads, or it should be providing a discount to those residents. Barrington Town News’ opinion is that this could potentially be the sticking point of a major class-action lawsuit against the City of Dover in the future.

After writing the initial letter to the City of Dover, three years passed, and during the three years, Mr. Allie was appointed to the Dover Utilities Commission. Someone else joined, who also lives on a Private Road, and they discussed the issue in length.

In April, Mr. Allie saw an opportunity to have a public meeting about the issue – so he distributed door flyers. The purpose of the meeting was to find out if anyone else cared about the issue. Mr. Allie said, “We found out they did…” as the capacity of the room was 60 persons and there were people standing outside. A Dover City Councilor, Dennis Shanahan was there, and Karen Weston, the Mayor of Dover showed up, who suggested they should have a follow-up meeting with the City of Dover.

On August 5th, 2019, Mr. Allie and supporters had a meeting with key city officials from the City of Dover, as organized by Mayor Weston, but they said that they couldn’t help them, and to go and talk to the State of New Hampshire about the issue. So, Mr. Allie talked to State Senator David Watters and Representative Peter Schmidt.

On September 9th, 2019, Mr. Allie and others organized a meeting with State of New Hampshire officials at the McConnell Center in Dover, NH. They booked a room with a capacity of 125 persons, however, they had over 165 people show up to the event from Barrington, Somersworth, but mostly from Dover. There was a list of proposed actions, including considering changes to RSA 231, 75, and 72. A significant outcome of the September 9th meeting is the creation of a Domestic Non-Profit Corporation “New Hampshire Private Road Taxpayers Alliance”.The founding members will be having their first meeting in November.Their mission is to seek fairness and equity for Private Road Taxpayers in New Hampshire.

Mr. Allie met with Patrick R. McElhiney at Barrington Town News on October 12th, 2019 to discuss this matter further, and their non-profit is now sending out letters to the Barrington Tax Assessor, and three letters to different Dover officials to determine what actions to take next. Mr. Allie made it clear that even if the claims made by the Barrington Town Administrator are true, he is not convinced the adjustments are enough to compensate for the lack of access to Services available to properties on Public and Class V Roads, but it is certainly a step in the right direction. We’re not sure what it could result in, if anything, for Barrington, but the Foster’s didn’t cover the story when they were contacted in September, so we picked it up to ensure that the public was aware of what is going on now. We offered to share our sources with a Foster’s reporter, but he didn’t respond immediately. We’re going to continue to follow this story in the future, as Barrington residents attended some of the meetings.