BERLIN — The city continues to comply with the N.H. Board of Tax and Land Appeals order and expects the case will soon be closed.
At the April 12 city council meeting, City Manager James Wheeler reviewed the city attorney’s update to the state board. The letter reports that the three members of the Berlin Board of Assessors agreed to step down after Mayor Paul Grenier requested their resignations.
Per the Board of Tax and Land Appeals order, the city has billed the three assessors for the property assessment abatements they granted each other and a family member for tax years 2018 and 2019 as well as interest. The totals are Mark Eastman, $2,074, Robert Goddard, $2,421, and Kem Rozek, $4,011. Thomas Rozek, the son of Kim Rozek, was billed $2,403.
The Board of Tax and Land Appeals ordered the city to have the 35 2018 abatements granted solely by the Berlin board reviewed.
That work has been completed by Corcoran Consulting Associates. Corcoran ruled 24 did not require any changes since the 2020 revaluation corrected any issues. Eleven were found to require some change, partly because of upgrades or construction. Corcoran said 15 should have an interior inspection before any changes are applied.
In addition, last week the council agreed to a request from the N.H. Department of Revenue Administration that the city have Corcoran review all of the 2018 abatements applications denied by the board of assessors.
Wheeler said the DRA advised if the city did not follow its recommendation, it would ask the Board of Tax and Land Appeals to add the request to its original order. Wheeler recommended the city agree to the request to review the 71 abatements. Mayor Paul Grenier agreed, saying he wanted to get the entire matter resolved.
Wheeler estimated the total cost for all the abatement reviews will be in the range of $2,500.
The Board of Assessors hired the legal firm of Gallagher, Callahan & Gartrell to represent it before the Board of Tax and Land Appeals and the bill is approximately $80,000.
Wheeler said $30,000 of that is being covered by the N.H. Public Risk Management Exchange, which provides insurance coverage to the city.
He said he did not have an estimate for the cost of City Attorney Chris Boldt’s work representing the city in the hearings but said it will be “much, much less” than the fee for the board of assessors.
The city is seeking applicants interested in serving on the board of assessors.
Members are nominated by the mayor and approved by the council.
In other business:
• The city council is scheduled to meet with the school board on May 3 to discuss the school district’s budget request.
This will be the second meeting with the school board and councilors hope the board will have a better sense of funding from both the state and federal governments.
The combination of a reduction in state education funding, an increase in education expenses, and needed capital improvement expenditures totals $6.76 of the projected $8.29 increase in the tax rate for fiscal year 2022.
Councilor Lucie Remillard said she hopes the school board will be able to provide an estimate of what it expects for a fiscal year 2021 surplus.
Grenier noted the city side of the budget is up $1.60 and asked Wheeler to identify cuts to come as close as possible to a zero increase. The mayor said that will require cutting approximately $670,000.
After meeting with the school board, the council will use the following Monday work session to put together a budget for the public hearing later than month.
• Kurt Melanson, who runs the Jobs for America’s Graduates program at Berlin High, asked the council for project suggestions. He explained that the program is designed to help students-at-risk stay in school using community involvement and connecting the students with career pathways. The program is grant funded and he said funding has been approved for the coming school year as well.
Melanson said students in the program are required to go out in the community and work on projects. Furthermore, he said the kids are eager to get outside this time of year. He asked the council for ideas of community projects the students could do.
Grenier said he would like to see the students work with the veterans on preparing the parks for Memorial Day. The mayor said the veterans are rearranging the monuments at Veterans Park and moving the Spanish-American War monument to the park. He said it would be nice if the students helped clean and tidy up the park so it will look nice when the project is complete. Grenier said there is also the Vietnam and World War I parks the students could clean up for Memorial Day.
Councilor Mark Eastman asked if the program continues through the summer.
Melanson said the summer program works in conjunction with the Appalachian Mountain Club. Students in the program did much of the work on the Mount Jasper hiking trail.
Eastman said another option for the students would be to work with the Main Street Program. He said the Main Street volunteers work hard keeping the downtown clean and planting and maintaining the flower pots.
Eastman said other suggestions include helping move the playground equipment from Brown School to Harvest Christian Church and volunteering at the mobile food banks.
Councilor Lucie Remillard said she agreed with starting with Veterans Parks and Main Street. She noted all the city parks need work.
• The council wrote a letter supporting the Friends of Big Nansen Ski Jump’s application to the Northern Forest Outdoor Recreation Grant for a grant to restore the adjacent 40-meter hill and two companion beginner hills.
Community Development Director Pamela Laflamme reported the project is in addition to the restoration of Big Jump that the Friends have undertaken. The smaller jumps are designed to allow local youth to take up the sport.
“We see this project as fitting in perfectly with our overall revitalization and community health objectives,” the letter stated. “A jumping program will provide a unique and healthy winter recreation activity for our local youth while bringing large numbers of people to our community during jumping and Nordic festivities,” it added.
Councilor Peter Higbee, who is a member of the Friends committee, said the smaller jumping hills have always been a main focus of the committee. He said the goal is to rebuild the sport of ski jumping and that means getting youth involved.
“I want to see Berlin kids having fun up there,” he said.