Ice arena disputes tax bill

NASHUA – Conway Ice Arena officials are trying to resolve a $66,000 dispute with the Board of Assessors before the tax bill cuts into the nonprofit’s programs at the Riverside Street facility.

Board members have raised questions about whether the organization, which is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a not-for-profit group, qualifies as a charitable organization to be exempt from local taxes.

All sides agree on the need to pay taxes on the small tenants, like the fitness center, in the nearly 37,000-square-foot facility. The dispute is on the five figures billed to the Nashua Ice Skating Center Corp.

Charlie Hall, one of the principals involved with the skating facility, said the group recently gave the Board of Assessors information that shows some 83 percent of ice time is used by Nashua families and young people and often at reduced fees.

The organization wants to resolve the issue and focus on the ice program, Hall said, adding there remain doubts about the sincerity of organizers to provide the arena only for the good of the community.

A question posed by the assessors is how much money Conway Ice Arena gives away to local youth activities, as required by the lease with the city.

Hall said the group is “trying to strike a balance” between running an ice arena and helping local nonprofit groups.

He said there is not a good accounting yet of how much money will be available to distribute. Hall estimated between $5,000 and $10,000.

The arena faces the prospect of raising rates for all skaters, including fees for local schools, if the tax exemption application is unsuccessful, said Hall.

“If we have to add $60,000 to expenses, we need to make that up somewhere,” he said. Initially, the arena’s budget did not have a line for property taxes, but the arena leaders now agree to pay taxes related to the tenants, Hall said.

Administrative Services Director Maureen Lemieux said the responsibility lies with the ice center officials to show the Board of Assessors its charity work.

The board has to be diligent and ensure all property owners in the city pay taxes fairly, she said. Other taxpayers shoulder an additional tax burden when the board grants a tax exemption, she said.

Officials from Conway Arena opted to postpone a Thursday meeting with the Board of Assessors until all three board members could attend.

Conway Ice Arena opened in 2003. It was built on city land leased to the organization for $1 a year. Several prominent business leaders, including Hall and real estate developer Tom Monahan, came up with the idea for the facility, which hosts ice skating lessons, high school hockey matches, and league play.

Hall said some of the people are getting frustrated with the drawn-out process. And supporters of the arena fear the months of dispute with the city board could dissuade other donors on other projects.

Alderman-at-Large Jim Tollner said the Board of Assessors should “take a look at this situation from a different perspective” considering the service of the ice arena.

“I think we’ve fallen down on this one,” he said about city leaders.

But Lemieux said that concern might be premature since the officials with the skating organization never gave the board enough information to make a decision.

The talks between the Board of Assessors and the Nashua Ice Skating Center Corp. are not the first time the two sides have sat across the table from each other.

The sports facility applied for a charitable tax exemption and an abatement for 2003 taxes, but it was denied after a missed deadline.

But Hall said he is optimistic this will be settled amicably now that the Board of Assessors has information outlining its qualification for a tax exemption.

The paperwork indicated it charges below-market rates to use the ice and then cuts another $35 an hour to Nashua high school hockey teams, opened its doors to more than 15,000 people for public skating sessions, gave Nashua high school teams dedicated locker rooms for exclusive use and built an additional locker room for the second high school team, and gave 15 hours of ice to the Recreation Department for a hockey camp, among other contributions.