Land Use Change Tax, local control under fire
House Bill 1515, which proposes major changes to the assessment and use of the Land Use Change Tax, threatens local control, raises significant concerns on several levels, and should be killed.First, the bill provides that the failure to pay all property taxes on current use land within 30 days after the date of notice of tax will constitute a change of use, triggering payment of the Land Use Change Tax, or LUCT. This is an extremely harsh penalty that, to our knowledge, municipalities are not seeking.The bill also provides that land will be considered changed in use and subject to the LUCT if the landowner does not notify the local assessing officials within 30 days that the land has changed from one qualifying use to another. That is unnecessary and extremely harsh.Second, the bill provides that if any LUCT assessment is not paid within 30 days after the due date, the property shall be deeded to the municipality. Again, this is extremely harsh and is neither in the interest of the property owner nor the municipality. Municipalities generally do not want to acquire land because of unpaid taxes -- they simply want the taxes paid.The bill repeals the provisions of RSA 79-A:25 that, upon majority vote of the legislative body, allow placement of a portion of any LUCT revenues into a conservation fund. This is a tool that many municipalities have used very successfully to fund acquisition of land or conservation easements. It is an important element of local control and represents an option that should be preserved for municipalities.Finally, the bill repeals RSA 79-A:25-a and 25-b, which authorize the establishment of the LUCT fund, an accounting mechanism that allows LUCT revenues to be segregated from the general fund until the legislative body within a traditional town meeting setting addresses the use of that revenue at the next annual meeting. There is no reason to remove this local option for the vast majority of communities in New Hampshire with traditional town meetings.The disposition of LUCT proceeds as part of New Hampshire's current use program has been a topic of robust conversation and debate among citizens within our state's communities since the program was established in 1973. Local control, however, should be preserved, and the changes proposed as part of HB 1515 are contrary to the interests of New Hampshire communities and the state as a whole.Todd I. Selig has been Durham town administrator since 2001.