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Next we're going to find out just how much it costs to have a lovely view outside your picture window. New Hampshire is known for picturesque towns with mountain views, but some homeowners are discovering just how much those views can cost in property taxes. Critics say the state is assessing an unfair view tax on property owners. But despite those complaints, the state legislature voted yesterday to keep the tax.
New Hampshire Public Radio's Amy Quinton reports.
AMY QUINTON: Tree farmer Tom Thompson(ph) drives around Orford, New Hampshire. The rural town lies along the Connecticut River Valley next to the Vermont border. He stops his truck in front of two homes that sit side by side with big lawns and a beautiful view across the river into the mountains of Vermont.
Mr. TOM THOMPSON: The white house behind us was assessed for $50,000 view assessment. The yellow house was assessed for zero. That is the inconsistencies of assessing views that's going on in the state of New Hampshire.
QUINTON: Local tax assessors say they've always considered view. But recently the appraisal forms changed so homeowners can see the specific monetary value placed on their view. What began as an attempt to be transparent on tax appraisals has now sparked a revolt against what Thompson calls a view tax.
Thompson drives out to a home that overlooks the community baseball field, including its porta-potties. Its view is worth $50,000. Ridiculous? Thompson and 6,000 other New Hampshire taxpayers think so. They petitioned lawmakers to eliminate view from appraisals, a campaign called Axe the View Tax.
Mr. THOMPSON: If you had 10 assessors, they would come up with 10 different calculations of what the view value of this was, especially when there is no definition, no clear, concise definition that's handed out by the state on how to assess a view. And that - to me, that's just mind-boggling.
QUINTON: Guy Petell directs the state's Property Appraisal Division. He concedes that beauty is in the eye of the beholder but defends the appraisals.
Mr. GUY PETELL (Director, New Hampshire Property Appraisal Division): Well, first of all, I don't think it should be eliminated. And I think that it's unconstitutional to do that because the Constitution says a fair market value with a piece of property. And fair market value with a piece of property includes a view.
QUINTON: Assessors says the problem isn't a view tax but that property values have skyrocketed in recent years. Thomas Holmes is the past president of New Hampshire's Tax Assessors Association.
Mr. THOMAS HOLMES (Former President, New Hampshire Tax Assessors Association): The problem is stemming from people from away coming up and paying premium prices for hilltop properties and more or less whacking out the market. And if you put out the word that now you can come up and buy these hilltop properties tax-free, you know, you can get your views for nothing basically after you pay for it, that's just going to exacerbate the problem.
QUINTON: Holmes says eliminating the view assessment would only force other homeowners to bear more of the tax burden. And for now New Hampshire legislators seem determined to keep the view assessments. But with property taxes bearing most of the revenue burden in the state, opponents say the issue isn't likely to go away any time soon.
For NPR News, I'm Amy Quinton in Concord.