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August 19. 2013 7:46PM

Tax-abessic: Losing lakefront land

For more than a century, the people of Manchester and surrounding towns have enjoyed hiking, biking, walking and fishing on some of the 7,200 acres of public land surrounding Lake Massabesic. That access is in jeopardy as Manchester Water Works, owner of the land, has put it up for sale. The culprit, as in so many sales of large tracts of New Hampshire land, is property taxation. The desire for municipal revenue could put an end to the public's enjoyment of this unique public asset.

Though the land is owned by a division of the city of Manchester, the acres stretch well into Auburn, Candia, Chester and Hooksett. Manchester Water Works must pay property taxes to those towns. The land is assessed at full value despite the fact that it is maintained as public recreational land. Manchester Water Works has tried to have the land assessed at the lower conservation-land rate. When that effort failed, it tried to have legislators change the tax law. It even went to court to reduce its tax bill, now at $670,000 a year. It could find no relief.
So now it is putting the land up for sale. That is concerning not only because Water Works has been such a great steward of the land, but also because Lake Massabesic is the city of Manchester's water supply. Water Works owns the land to ensure the water supply is protected. Though any sale would come with land-use restrictions, there is no guarantee a future owner would be as careful about watershed protection as Water Works has been.

New Hampshire has some good tax laws written specifically to prevent this type of situation. It is frustrating that Water Works has been unable to use them to reduce its tax bill. While Water Works is reviewing bids, Manchester officials should be talking to the taxing towns, and the city's legislative delegation should be searching for remedies. The city should not have to lose such great stewardship of such an important tract of public land because of a tax code that was meant to apply to private property.


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