As all taxpayers are now aware, the Town Assessor and Vision Appraisal conducted a revaluation of their property in Hampton. Everyone received notices with the ability to appeal their valuations; the Hampton Union reported that 900 people set up appointments. Vision reported that overall residential single-family home assessments increased by 22%. Given our research, this does not seem out of line and while there will always be the exceptions of some properties being overvalued; our analysis indicates that single family homes are generally fairly re-valued in relation to the market. We also checked with local real estate agents, comparable sales in the neighborhoods and Zillow to make sure that the valuations were reasonable.
However, we did not come to the same conclusions regarding commercial properties valuations. Vision Appraisal reported only about a 10% increase in the assessed valuations of commercial properties, which means that there will be a significant shift in taxes to residential properties owners. For the period of April 1, 2014 to June 30, 2016 we were able to identify 20 sales of commercial properties. Of these sales we separated Uptown from the Beach. The new valuations for Uptown properties appear to be in alignment with their sale price. However, we believe that commercial properties at the Beach were undervalued with the most extreme case being the Ashworth Hotel. The Ashworth sold for $14.5 million in late June, more than double its current valuation of $6.5 million and over $4 million or 44% more than the $10 million going forward assessment set earlier in June by Vision Appraisal. A total of 10 commercial properties at the Beach were sold for a median price 33% higher than their 2015 valuations while the valuation of their properties increased by less than 15%. The assessment of the Casino property in the heart of the beach appears to have increased by only 8%. Other properties in the immediate area appear to have increased by a similarly percentage. It’s hard to understand these relatively small increases given that the 2015 assessments are based on the market values in 2011, which was prior to the State of New Hampshire’s investments in the Seashell Stage and bath houses, and subsequent private investments on the west side of Ocean Boulevard.
Another area of interest is the valuations of parking lots at the beach. Private beach parking lot valuations increased by only 10% while the rates charged have increased substantially. The Selectmen recently increased the maximum rate of the town owned lots by 50% in response to increases by private lots, which have been charging as high as $30 to $50 a day, well up over the 2011 levels. All in all the properties should be worth substantially more as income producing holdings.
One final area is that apartment buildings valued at over $1 million had their assessments increased by Vision Appraisal by only 11%. It’s hard to accept that they’ve increased by only 11% since 2011, given an environment of rapidly increasing rents during the 5-year period.
It is imperative that the Selectmen, Town Manager, Assessor and Vision Appraisal put their heads together to address these issues. This is not the first time there have been major problems with revaluations. Vision’s 2010 proposed revaluation in Hampton was scrapped and redone in 2011. The 2008 North Hampton revaluation was a major source of controversy. We understand that the Assessor will be seeking the Selectmen’s final approval of Vision’s recommended values at their August 8th meeting; we hope the points that we’ve raised will not be ignored. We also suggest that the 900 people with concerns over their property’s valuation will be watching that meeting on Channel 22. We do not want to see a shift in taxes to residential property owners.
While there has been an immediate knee jerk reaction that an increase in property valuations means a similar increase in property taxes, this is not necessarily true since the denominator in calculating the tax rate, the total taxable valuation, is now a larger number and as a result the town tax rate for schools, county and local services should go down.
Finally, a recent event caught our attention. At their last meeting the Selectmen granted raises of 2-3% for Department Heads and other non-union employees as compared with 1.5% last year and 1% the year before. Looks like a trend of increased spending. In addition, there was one notable exception, that being the Police Chief, who received a 10%, $10,000 increase. The accounting for the raises, which will have an annual impact of about $38,000, was done in a manner to obfuscate the amount in relation to the budgeted amount of $16,000 by distributing the increases between the Personnel Administration and Police Department sections of the budget. While this may not seem like a huge amount, it will add to the default budget and in our opinion is a slight of hand. We further looked into the wages of the Police Chief and it is our understanding that he is doing private details. We question the wisdom of such activities given the enormity of his responsibilities running a major department in Hampton and the need to be rested and focused on managing the department, not functioning as a worker bee to increase his income.
All of this is a warning shot across the bow of the taxpayers that they have to be more diligent in paying attention to local government officials. We at Rational Taxpayers will remain dedicated to continue to look out for the interests of the Taxpayers. If these items are important to you and you would like to join our cause, contact us or go to our web site at rtoh.org and register.