Manchester Water Works to sell acreage; towns to lose revenue
A canoeist approaches the Route 28 Bypass bridge near the Deerneck boat launch at Lake Massabesic in Auburn. Manchester Water Works is looking for a buyer for 7,200 acres of forestland it has managed for more than a century. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)
The town of Auburn could see a net loss of about $600,000 a year - enough to fund the fire department, the library and the parks and recreation department. It also represents about $1 on Auburn's tax rate, or about $350 a year for a home assessed at $350,000, according to Town Administrator Bill Herman.
Herman said he would expect a nonprofit to pay at least some tax money even with its land in current use, which bases a tax bill not on its real estate market value but on its income-producing capability as if used solely for growing forest or agricultural crops.
Both finalists - the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests and the Southeast Land Trust of New Hampshire - plan to put the land in current use.
Chabot said officials hope to select one by year's end.
Duane Hyde, the land trust's land protection director, said he would like to work with Manchester Water Works to help the affected towns deal with the expected drop in tax revenue.
On the flip side, Manchester Water Works, a city department, plans to use its tax savings to replace aging infrastructure. An extra $600,000 would allow for the replacement of 4,000 feet of water main, Chabot said.
"We've got old infrastructure," he said. "Like everyone else, we're trying to stay ahead of the curve."
For the first half of 2013, Water Works paid Auburn $340,287, Hooksett $28,252, Candia $21,791 and Chester $1,525 for property it now plans to sell, according to Chabot. The tax rates haven't been set in those towns for the second-half bills. Chabot said its overall Hooksett tax bill was a few thousand dollars higher, but Water Works expects to retain some property there, so the $28,252 represents land included in the sale.
Water Works officials eliminated two potential buyers, the Bear-Paw Regional Greenways, a land trust in Deerfield, and Green Crow, a for-profit company based in Washington state with an office in Auburn.
Chabot said the sale probably wouldn't have happened had the Legislature last year passed Senate Bill 337. That bill would have allowed Water Works to place the land in current use, substantially cutting its tax obligation.
"I think people felt losing that amount of money would hurt" the other communities, he said.
Keene paid more than $74,000 in property taxes to Roxbury last year for its ownership of 2,323 acres that includes watershed and reservoirs, according to Donna Hanscom, Keene's assistant public works director.
D'Allesandro said cutting the tax bill for Water Works would hurt the towns, but said water customers must foot the tax bills through their water rates.
Forest Society spokesman Jack Savage said his nonprofit would love to own the property, but could do it only if it qualified for current use.
"We're not in a position to pay a large tax bill either, quite frankly," he said.
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