Property tax bills outrage long-term campsite visitors
Renee Soucy of Raymond and her daughter Mary in front of their camper at Mile-Away Campground in Henniker on Thursday. (DAVID LANE / UNION LEADER)
Spokesman: Campers stonewalled at protest
These days, however, Dole is busy leading a small-scale revolt.
Dole is one of hundreds of seasonal campers who have received property tax bills in recent weeks. In some cases, the bills have exceeded $1,000 — more than a third of the total cost for a six-month permit to stay at Mile-Away.
Assessing officials in Henniker and several other towns have issued the tax notices to campers in response to a directive from the state Department of Revenue Administration that seasonal and year-around campers and trailers be taxed as real estate.
Dole is not having it.
“This is taxation without representation,” said Dole, who has been coming up to Mile-Away from North Reading, Mass., with her husband and four children for seven years. Like many seasonal campers, she pays to store her camper at the site during the fall and winter months.
“New Hampshire is supposed to love campers,” Dole added, referring to the slogan used by the New Hampshire Campground Owners Association. “This is the only thing we can afford to do, to come here and camp, and they're going to ruin that.”
Dole, along with Renee Soucy, her friend and neighbor at Mile-Away who comes up from Raymond with her family on the weekends, have been circulating petitions among fellow campers and town residents protesting the tax. Dole said some campers gathered at Henniker Town Hall on Saturday to voice their complaint.
Mile-Away's owner, Bob French, says the tax could devastate his business, since the vast majority of the roughly 150 campsites are occupied by seasonal campers.
David Cornell, the assistant director of the DRA's property appraisal division, said towns are required under RSA 72-23 to assess all taxable real estate. The agency tells assessors to use a four-question test to determine whether seasonal recreational vehicles at campsites are taxable: Is the structure intended to be “more or less” permanent? Is it completely enclosed? Is it used as a dwelling? Is it intended to remain stationary?
So how can assessors determine whether a recreational vehicle is intended to remain stationary? “One of the simplest things is to check if it's registered? That would indicate that it's not intended to remain stationary,” he said. “A lot of times, decks and other structures are attached — this would be an indication that (the vehicle) is intended to remain stationary.”
Still, it appears DRA's orders are open to a great deal of interpretation. While several towns, including Henniker and Hopkinton, have issued tax bills en masse to seasonal campers, other towns haven't done so at all. Some town officials have argued that the expense of site-by-site assessing outweighs any additional tax revenue.
This is why the issue cries out for legislative action, according to Andy Sanborn, who represented Henniker in the state Senate last session and is now running for election in Senate District 9.
Sanborn sponsored a bill, SB 292, last session that would have exempted from property taxes “manufactured housing which is used as a temporary, seasonal dwelling for less than 210 days a year, is registered at a campground, is registered as a motor vehicle or transfer, or is in storage.”
The bill stalled in the Senate.
“This is one case where the Legislature got lazy and government became overly aggressive, and it's really going to hurt our tourism,” said Sanborn, who said he will push for similar legislation next year if he's reelected to the Senate.
Sanborn likened the issue to the return of the “campground tax,” which had applied the rooms and meals tax to campers. After an outcry, the Legislature repealed the tax in 2010.
Meanwhile, campers Lola Dole and Renee Soucy will continue their mobilization efforts.
Soucy said they've received a lot of support from local business owners.
“They're so 100 percent behind us,” Soucy said. “They say, 'If you guys leave and the campground closes, we're losing big revenue in those six months.'”
Both Dole and Soucy have brought relatives — including Dole's father, who just purchased a new RV — to Mile-Away. She said they might have to go to other states to spend their spring and summer weekends.
“They're going to ruin an American family tradition,” Dole said.
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