Owners of Burned Block Seek Tax Relief

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Selectmen Amenable, but Town Meeting Vote Required

By Patrick Cronin

Hampton Union, Friday, April 9, 2010

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

Property owners impacted in last month's fire at Hampton Beach that leveled a block of businesses said they all want to rebuild— but to do so they will need the help of the town.

The owners of the former Surf Motel, Happy Hampton and Mrs. Mitchell's told selectmen this week they would like the town to consider offering them a tax break.

"There is a common commitment from all the business owners affected in the fire that we want to rebuild our properties," Mrs. Mitchell's owner Lynn Mitchell said. "We want to rebuild our block to something we can all be proud of but we don't want to be burdened with a substantial tax impact as we are trying to get back on our feet."

Selectmen were favorable to helping the families — who said they basically lost a year's income due the Feb. 24 fire — but said it would take a Town Meeting vote to make it happen.

Town Manager Fred Welch explained voters would need to adopt the provisions of Chapter 79 E, which allows towns to offer a community revitalization tax relief incentive.

If a town adopts the legislation, a property owner who wants to substantially rehabilitate a building located downtown or in a village center, may apply for temporary tax relief to the local governing property.

"But they have to qualify under the statute," Welch. "It has to be determined there is a public benefit. That means it must enhance economic value of the downtown or enhance a culturally or historical important site."

Welch said if the temporary tax relief is granted it would be for five years during which the property tax on the structure would not increase as a result of its substantial rehabilitation.

Currently the value of the properties — without buildings — is $3 million.

Selectman Chairman Richard Nichols said he would support asking voters to adopt the provisions of the state statute.

"As long as it takes a Town Meeting approval, I'm OK with," Nichols said. "I would be adamantly opposed if this was strictly put in the control of the selectmen. I think it would be susceptible to cronyism and whatever else."

Selectman Rick Griffin said he would like to see the board put a warrant article to voters at the next election, whether it's a special Town Meeting or the annual Town Meeting.

"I think we need to do whatever we can to help these businesses rebuild," he said.

Selectman Richard Batemen agreed.

"We are going to do anything we can to make sure there is not a vacant lot there," he said.

The board members noted they will not have to rush a special meeting because the affected property owners will be getting a break at least in 2010.

Nichols explained to the owners that April 1 is the critical date for the town in terms of valuing properties. Since their properties were destroyed in late February, they will only be assessed for the land and not the buildings.

Meanwhile, fire officials said they are still investigating the cause of the fire that took Hampton and 40 other fire departments to extinguish.

Hampton Fire Chief Chris Silver, however, said he doesn't believe the fire was suspicious.

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