Tax assessment error of 2010 may be settled for Wilton Lyndeborough Co-op

LYNDEBOROUGH – A three-year-old cooperative school district tax assessment error, which gave Lyndeborough $114,000 at the expense of Wilton, may be on the verge of being settled.

Attorneys for the towns of Wilton and Lyndeborough met before Superior Court Judge Kathleen McGuire last week to ask that Wilton’s suit against Lyndeborough be settled by fact-finding rather than a trial. McGuire agreed and will read the “facts as presented” and meet with the attorneys again on Dec. 19.

The dispute concerns school district assessments made in 2010. That year, the two towns consolidated their school districts and made some adjustments to the Articles of Agreement between the two towns as to the manner in which capital expenditures would be covered. Most of the district expenses are assessed on a 70-30 percent split of population and town equalized evaluation, but school building improvements are covered by the town in which the school is located.

The Department of Revenue Administration apparently missed the changes when the 2010 tax rate was set. The result was an over assessment to the town of Wilton of $114,000. Lyndeborough Town Administrator Burton Reynolds discovered the error while working on the tax rate for 2011 and brought it to attention of School Business Administrator Lisa Ambrosio and DRA officials.

In updating the ongoing discussions in May 2012, Reynolds said Wilton had a “10-day window in which to find and report errors in the tax figures,” but officials had failed to do that. Reynolds said Lyndeborough could simply tell Wilton, “You missed your window.”

But town officials said it would be wrong to do that and agreed Lyndeborough should come with the money “somehow.” That “somehow” remained a question.

Reynolds said in 2012 that should the town decide to pay it all at once, via an article in the town warrant, “it could add 80 cents to the tax rate.”

It was later learned that that avenue was not feasible. One town meeting cannot bind another, and if the voters turned down the article, “the town would be back to square one,” he said. Current taxpayers can’t be held responsible for what taxpayers were assessed two years ago, he said.

Use of the town’s surplus funds as the end of the year was another possibility, but since it is never known what those funds will be, it could not be determined how long it would take to pay the bill.

Wilton officials said they would like a one-time payment.

After discussions between the two boards of selectmen and their attorneys, it was decided that Wilton would take the matter to court to get a determination.

That hearing has finally come up.

Reynolds attended the hearing and reported to the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, Nov. 25.

Reynolds said, while both towns agree that Lyndeborough owes the money, there seems to be no easy legal way for the town to repay it.

Lyndeborough’s attorney, William Drescher, argued that it is a taxation question and that the state rules do not allow for such errors to be corrected if they are not found within the 10-day window after tax rates are set. The error wasn’t found until the following year.

For the town of Wilton to try to divide the $114,000 evenly among those who were assessed in 2010 would be “a nightmare.”

Wilton’s attorney, Silas Little, argued that it is a contract issue, one between the two towns. The judge will make the determination.

Reynolds cited several similar cases of taxation errors, all of which were more or less dismissed as having missed the deadline.