EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 10, 2013

Town, Beede Group still at odds over taxes

State board agrees with property owner

By Alex Lippa

---- — PLAISTOW — The group cleaning up the Superfund site off Kelley Road maintains it doesn’t owe the town more than $1 million in back taxes.

“The back taxes aren’t ours,” said Greg Howard, spokesman for the Beede Group. “We’ve only been here since 2009; we aren’t affiliated to the people who polluted the property.”

The Beede Group, which includes the companies deemed responsible for the hundreds of thousands of gallons of contaminants dumped at the site, has owned the property since 2009. It is now cleaning up the property.

The town has been pushing for the group to pay taxes owed to the town since 1990.

“When you buy property, you have to pay off back taxes,” Town Manager Sean Fitzgerald said. “They did a quit-claim deed and they did not pay off taxes. Back taxes still are attached to the deeds.”

Now, there’s another battle.

The town assessed the Beede property, approximately 39 acres, at $763,340. The landowners disagreed.

The issued ended up at the New Hampshire Board of Land and Tax Appeals.

In a ruling issued April 1, the state sided with the Beede Group.

The state board ruled the town’s assessment was “disproportionately high.” That board reduced the valuation to $200.

“We had depreciated the property due to the conditions,” Fitzgerald said. “We assessed it at what we thought was a reasonable discount. The decision should send shockwaves through folks that want a fair and just assessment.”

The Beede Group argued the value should be the “uncontaminated market value” minus the $50 million cleanup cost, resulting in a value of less than zero.

“We essentially used a method that is commonly accepted,” Howard said. “Clearly, the opinion of the board is that we did it correctly.”

While the Beede Group may be happy with the state board’s ruling, selectmen aren’t. They are weighing an appeal of that decision to the New Hampshire Supreme Court. They will discuss it in a nonpublic session Monday.

“It’s incredibly disappointing,” Fitzgerald said. “Every property taxpayer in New Hampshire should feel badly about this decision. “

Howard said he understands taxpayers’ frustration, but he believes blame is being directed at the wrong party.

“We were simply caught up in it because it was licensed and accredited,” Howard said. “The people who owned the site were not doing what they were supposedly doing.”

The land was previously owned by Mark Henry. He was sent to prison for 37 months for environmental fraud in 1996.

“The previous owners are the ones who incurred the tax and they are the ones who are responsible for it,” Howard said. “We go above and beyond in terms of doing the things we are responsible for. We are placed in a difficult position, but the reality is we are doing a good deed.”

Contaminated soil is being removed from the site now, but the cleanup won’t be complete until 2017.