By Patrick Cronin
Hampton Union, Friday, November 23, 2012
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
HAMPTON -- A 'civil war' over taxation is brewing at Hampton Beach. Nearly 60 residents living in the neighborhood known as White Island (or White's Island or White Rocks Island), have filed a petition asking selectmen to approve their request to secede from the Hampton Beach Village District.
Selectmen took the matter under advisement Monday night and started the withdrawal process by scheduling a public hearing, as required by state statute.
The hearing will take place at 7 p.m. Dec. 17 in the selectmen's meeting room at Town Hall.
Town Manager Fred Welch told selectmen Monday that residents of White Island who signed the petition feel they receive "no benefits" from the Hampton Beach Village District.
Residents who live within the boundaries of the precinct pay an additional tax to belong. The majority of the money collected is used to promote Hampton Beach, including nightly entertainment and weekly fireworks shows during the summer.
According to state statutes regarding village districts, residents at any time may petition selectmen to change the boundaries of the precinct.
Welch said if selectmen grant the petition, residents still need to achieve voter approval at the district's annual Town Meeting.
The petition defines the White Island area as beginning on Epping Avenue and extending north to Haverhill Avenue, including all streets in between and running from Ocean Boulevard east to the Atlantic Ocean.
June White, who signed the petition, said she hopes selectmen will give their OK.
She said residents in her section of the beach are tired of paying additional taxes just so tourists can have a good time.
"A lot of people there do not rent their places and don't benefit from what the precinct does," White said. "The budget of the precinct keeps climbing and climbing and why should we have to pay for it?"
The district budget is currently $500,699 a year.
"Promoting the beach should be a function of the businesses and the Hampton Area Chamber of Commerce," White said. "Taxpayers shouldn't be footing the bill."
But Precinct Commissioner Maureen Buckley does not believe district voters will ever give their approval to the secession because White Island residents do receive a benefit in belonging.
"There are several properties in that area that are rentals," Buckley said. "We as a community help promote tourism at the beach. We are responsible for making sure the beach has entertainment, fireworks and other activities that make people want to come here."
Buckley also noted that there is already a mechanism for single-family properties in the precinct to get tax breaks. Residents who don't want to pay for promotion and tourism have the ability to file an exemption from paying that portion of the precinct property tax.
"So I don't really know why they are doing this," Buckley said.
This isn't the first time a request to shrink the boundaries of the precinct has occurred.
In 1988, selectmen approved petitions to eliminate Boar's Head and North Beach from the district.
Welch explained that back then selectmen could just approve the changes.
"That is not the case anymore," he said, noting that the law was changed in 2003.
The 2003 state law says any boundary change in the case of "any district formed for the purpose of the supply of water for domestic and fire purposes" needs to be ratified by voters of the district.
The Hampton Beach Village District was originally formed in 1907 to improve infrastructure and bring fire protection to the beach.
While the precinct no longer is responsible for fire protection, Welch said the new law still applies because that is why the district was formed.
Selectmen Chairman Rick Griffin said he doesn't have a position yet on the withdrawal request.
But as a resident of the Village District, he said there is no doubt that losing White Island would cause taxes to go up for everyone else in the precinct.
The White Island area consists of 130 properties.
"It will definitely hurt the precinct," Griffin said.