Court sides with towns over utilities in tax dispute

By Holly Ramer, Associated Press

Two electric utilities seeking to reduce their property taxes in dozens of towns across New Hampshire lost an appeal Friday to the state Supreme Court.

 

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Two electric utilities seeking to reduce their property taxes in dozens of towns across New Hampshire lost an appeal Friday to the state Supreme Court.

Eversource and the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative sought tax abatements from 64 towns in 2011 and 2012, but the state Board of Tax and Land Appeals rejected most of those requests, and the utilities appealed.

The utilities argued that towns' property tax assessments were too high and that their property taxes instead should be based on a valuation formula used by the state Department of Revenue Administration in levying a separate utility tax.

In the ruling released Friday, the court sided with the towns, though it said it was troubled by substantial differences in assessments by towns for property tax purposes and assessments by the state for utility taxes. The court said such disputes could be avoided by adopting a uniform appraisal method, a decision for the Legislature, not the courts.

Eversource spokesman Martin Murray said the company has a duty to dispute valuations made by communities the company considers extreme outliers compared to the state assessments. He said the company remains concerned about the wide discrepancies.

"Eversource always seeks to pay our fair share of taxes and is the largest payer of property taxes in the state of New Hampshire. Ultimately, it is our customers who pay those costs, so we seek to ensure they are fair and reasonable," he said.

Seth Wheeler, a spokesman for the Electric Cooperative, said that while he was disappointed with the ruling, he was gratified the court noted the discrepancy between the towns and the state. The utility is backing pending legislation that would adopt a uniform method to value such property. The cooperative's property taxes have increased 70 percent in the past five years, he said.

"Every dollar of those costs are borne by our members. We are very concerned that they are being asked to pay far more than their share of the property tax burden in some communities," he said.

The utilities also have pending appeals in various communities for every tax year since 2012. Attorney Eric Maher, whose firm represented 20 towns in the Eversource case, said he expects the results will be the same in those cases.

"The evidence spoke for itself, the court exercised the appropriate level of deference to the (tax board's) well-thought-out decision, and it was the right result," he said.

The abatements in question amount to millions of dollars and, if granted, communities would have to increase tax rates for all property owners.

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