Friday, February 18, 2022

Business Owners in Gorham Carrying a Heavy Tax Burden so Residents Can Get Lower Rates


     "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." George Orwell's Animal Farm
By: Rich Bergeron 

      The old working cart horse Boxer is a perfect metaphor for most business owners trying to keep their heads above water in the town of Gorham, New Hampshire. A pandemic sweeping across the world and this country only amplified their struggles in recent years. Retail and industry sectors everywhere continue to suffer from supply chain issues and cost increases due to inflation. It is a difficult environment to thrive in already, but oppressive taxation compounds the problems these commercial property owners face in Gorham, New Hampshire.

      Like the famous character in Orwell's book that pulled all the extra weight so the rest of the animals on the farm could live easier lives, people who operate businesses in Gorham are making life easier for homeowners in town. Just like Boxer was a victim of the system that brainwashed him to put his head down and "work harder" in the face of adversity, the most abused class of taxpayers in town don't speak out and protest as much as they should. 

      "The problem is, one of the largest employers in Gorham is Gorham," explained Dennis Tupick, a fed-up target of the town's overtaxing exploits. "Nobody wants to rock the boat." 

     Tupick is right. If you go by number of employees as a yardstick, Berlin City Auto Group and Walmart top the list with just under 250 employees each. Gorham Paper and Tissue, LLC and Family Resource Center take the 3rd and 4th positions, respectively. The town clocks in at number 5 on the list with 53 employees working under the "municipal services" category. Between residents enjoying a low tax burden who are unwilling to get concerned about overtaxed businesses and town employees not wanting the town to be in any position to have to lay off workers, it's hard to find outspoken victims of this assessment scheme targeting commercial property owners. Unless these overburdened taxpayers also own homes in town, many of them don't get the chance to vote out the leaders who perpetuate this biased approach. 

      The only viable avenue of relief comes in the form of successful abatement requests. Tupick claims he's had to pay as much as 1/3 of yearly business income to cover town property taxes. He argues that town officials use property tax rigging against utilities and businesses like their own "personal piggy bank." 

      "I've won every abatement I've ever filed against Sansoucy and the town," Tupick said. "Other businesses have gone under because of the property taxes, and there's nothing to back up what they're saying to try to justify the assessments." 
     Tupick is disgusted by the bogus "fair share" argument. "I've personally paid ten times my fair share," Tupick reports. "It's the residents who aren't paying their fair share. They are the ones benefiting the most from town services, too." 

      Tupick used to be friends with Mike Waddell, the current Chairman of the Board of Selectmen in town. The two have grown apart over the years since they first met in the early 80s. 
     "He's a snake," Tupick insisted in a recent interview. "Everything he does is underhanded." 
     Along with his successful battles fighting high assessments of his own properties, Tupick also managed to help a few other businesses get out from under ridiculously high valuations. He insisted town officials "run that little hamlet like a city" and reap the rewards from their positions of power. 

     Another business owner in town who wished to remain anonymous said if Waddell really runs a construction business, he doesn't spend much time swinging a hammer. The same business operator explained that evidence has been brought to the town to show George "Skip" Sansoucy is not an ideal expert to hire, but town officials simply ignored the inconvenient facts and kept the Sansoucy firm on the payroll anyway. 

     The fact that Mike Waddell used to work for Sansoucy seems like a not-so-well-kept secret in town. Still, despite that peculiar past history linking the two co-conspirators in all the inflationary taxation, Waddell continues to influence the town's decisions regarding Sansoucy's contractual relationship with the town. Meanwhile, Attorney Christopher Boldt continues to do everything in his power to protect and insulate Sansoucy and the town of Gorham from everyone who cries foul. Countless abatement requests brought on by this corrupt group's own self-perpetuated abuses of power and influence are defended relentlessly. Win or lose, Sansoucy and Boldt get paid either way. 

      So far, the many failures and losses racked up by this crooked crew have not made enough waves to concern the general public in town. There always seems to be enough money to pay all the bills. All this sordid scheming will stop only when the money to cover it all up gets exponentially harder to come up with. Just like what causes a Ponzi scheme to collapse, the lack of investors will prove fatal to this organized, town-sanctioned fraud. The tipping point is coming. 

      Consider the Board of Tax and and Appeals (BTLA) case of Top Furniture, Incorporated vs. Town of Gorham. Since the schemers already lost their ability to easily overtax the utilities in town and refuse to pass the buck to homeowners, their brazen attempts to stick it to business owners are coming home to roost. This BTLA decision fits the pattern of people deciding they're not going to take it anymore: 

"Based on the evidence and arguments presented, the board finds the weight of the evidence supports a finding the Property was disproportionally assessed in tax years 2017, 2018 and 2019. Using its judgment and experience, the board finds the most reasonable estimate of the Property’s market value was $1,500,000 in these tax years. When adjusted by the respective levels of assessment, the assessments (rounded) are abated to $1,458,000 in 2017, $1,452,000 in 2018 and $1,438,500 in 2019. As the parties recognize and as prescribed in RSA 75:1,3 assessments must be based on market value. Proportionality is determined by establishing a credible estimate of the Property’s market value and adjusting this estimate by the level of assessment in the Town in each tax year. [See, e.g., Porter v. Town of Sanbornton, 150 N.H. 363, 367 (2003).]"

    The figures the board determined to be fair were much lower than Sansoucy's figures estimating the same property to be valued at: "$2,182,200 in tax year 2017, $2,266,400 in tax year 2018 and $2,152,500 in tax year 2019." That is a total discrepancy of $2,252,600 over the three-year term. That translates to tax revenue lost on top of funds paid to Sansoucy for the initial appraisal, his paid testimony before the BTLA, and Christopher Boldt's bills for all the legal assistance to promote a losing effort. At this rate, taxpayers should be asking themselves if they are getting any real value out of this arrangement. How long will it take for all this money wasting to translate into higher rates for homeowners just in order for the town to foot the exponentially rising bills for defending the indefensible? 

     One of the properties cited by Sansoucy as a "comparable" sale to Top Furniture's property happened to be Dennis Tupick's Gorham Industrial Park, LLC warehouse facility at 18 Glen Road. This was ironic considering the town had to abate that property down to $550,000 from a prior taxed valuation of $671,200 after Tupick argued that he could not move the building down the road to Plymouth, New Hampshire. The town could only justify their attempt to overvalue the property by citing a sale in that much heavier populated college town. Now they were trying to use a more accurate value of the Glen Road property (one they previously disagreed with) to overvalue another property in town. 

     While the famous red-roofed restaurant chain will tell you in their commercials that "you can't out-pizza the Hut," you can definitely overvalue a former Pizza Hut franchise if you're Skip Sansoucy. Jack and Corinne Jennings purchased the shuttered pizza shop at 195 Main Street in Gorham for $140,000 in March of 2018. Yet, the town concluded the parcel was worth an overblown $346,300 for tax year 2018 and $342,000 for tax year 2019. More concerning than the padding of the tax bill, Sansoucy compiled a 134-page appraisal with an attached 1,500 page appendix. It was not enough to sway the BTLA from granting the property owners' request for an abatement. The BTLA weighed all the "voluminous" paperwork submitted by Sansoucy only to conclude his figures were off by over $125,000 for each respective year the owners challenged. That's a lot of dough. 

     The BTLA's decision abated the formal assessment numbers for the property down to $217,800 in 2018 and $215,800 in 2019. Was it really worth all the time, effort and hourly wages paid by Gorham to Sansoucy's firm to salvage that extra $128,500 in taxable value for 2018 and $126,200 for 2019? Win or lose the abatement request, Sansoucy and Boldt would still collect fat paychecks for trying to justify the inflated values. Even if both the attorney and the appraisal expert were correct, would there be any cost savings at all for Gorham after the subtraction of expenses incurred for the defense of Sansoucy's questionable calculations? That seems highly doubtful. 

     Something has to give eventually as more and more abatements like this get approved in the town of Gorham. At some point the homeowners are bound to have to pay out more when all the legal fees and the "expert" analysis costs keep outpacing the few gains Sansoucy and Boldt achieve from beating abatement requests. How long will it be before lower tier town employees begin feeling the detrimental financial effects of all this good old boy networking? 

     It would be far better to stop this madness in its tracks as soon as humanly possible than it would be to let this powder keg explode in the town square when these shady insiders finally run out of cover up funds. Though the low tax payouts might last a little longer for homeowners, this scheme is approaching catastrophic failure. Residents and town employees will all have to pay a price for this fraudulent behavior at some point in the near future if it persists as the norm. There is no escaping the downward spiral that is coming. Right now, all the wasted money is just clogging the toilet. If these problems are not solved sooner rather than later, all that cash will disappear with one flush. 

     It's only a matter of time before too many over-stressed businesses collapse or leave town due to the controversy. Then homeowners will be left holding the bag anyway. If the process cannot be fixed to make it fair and equitable for all taxpayers, it will only make the whole sordid situation much worse. Eventually all the residential taxpayers in town will not be able to avoid suffering the consequences of this complex scandal. The holes dug by all this malicious maneuvering have to be filled back in at some point, or the whole foundation of the town's financial situation will fall apart.

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