Towns seek more money from AMC

Three North Country communities are battling the Appalachian Mountain Club in an effort to make the 103-year-old charitable agency pay full property taxes on its hotels and restaurants in Carroll, Pinkham Notch and Alexandria.

The environmental group is contesting in Superior Court its first-ever property tax bill, levied last year by the town of Carroll.

Meanwhile, five North Country lawmakers are pushing House Bill 1631, a bill to make the AMC pay property taxes on these so-called resort facilities.

Bill sponsors like Rep. Fred King, R-Colebrook, and Gene Chandler, R-Bartlett, say the Highland Center, the Cardigan Lodge and the Pinkham Notch Visitors Center act like and compete head-to-head with the local hospitality industry.

“We’ve had a bad winter up there with little snow,” King said. “But everyone else has to pay their property taxes this spring.”

As first introduced, the bill required the AMC to pay on its market rate assessed value for its hotels and restaurants. The New Hampshire Municipal Association supported that draft of the bill and assumed it would yield Alexandria $15,000 a year. Carroll would get $57,000 and Coos County $20,000. The house passed an amended version March 7 that makes the AMC instead negotiate a payment in lieu of taxes with each town.

Attorney Bernie Waugh, counsel for Carroll, told a Senate committee Wednesday the latest version is worse than doing nothing. First, he said, it declares the whole AMC property tax exempt, even before the owners prove every part conforms to the charitable mission of the AMC.

“It takes that burden away from them,” Waugh argued. “And it encourages a payment in lieu of taxes without any standards, without ties to a body of law on the use for charitable purposes.”

Waugh said the AMC made a payment in lieu of taxes for several years in the $10,000 range, but the town thinks a fair bill should be more like $50,000.
Sen. Peter Burling, D-Cornish, said the need for legislation aimed at one organization and feared the precedent for private schools, colleges and non-profit hospitals.

“Why is this bill before us at all?” Burling asked. “Don’t the towns have recourse to Superior Court?”

In the long run, non-profit agencies are imitating the corporate sector. Many are even becoming big businesses. The AMC declared an operating surplus of $3 million on its annual report to the Division of Charitable Trusts last fall. Its total assets grew to nearly $60 million in the Appalachian region.

Susan Arnold, a spokesman for the AMC, told lawmakers the 90,000-member club loses money on its so-called resort hotels. And the organization offered to increase its yearly payments to Carroll, but the town said no.

“These are not-for-profit centers,” she said. “We are not pleased to be singled out for special treatment under this bill. But we are prepared to live with it.”

Cash-strapped communities from Portsmouth and Durham to Plymouth, Wolfeboro and Swanzey are struggling the same way with tax-exempt state facilities, charities and other nonprofit organizations.

This year, communities have garnered little support from the Legislature. It rejected proposed bills to make Plymouth State University pay Plymouth an extra $587,000 per year for emergency services and make Pease Development Authority pay Portsmouth an extra $70,000.

Towns are doing better with the Supreme Court. In the last several years it has made the Taylor Home in Wolfeboro and the Pilgrim Pines religious retreat in Swanzey pay substantial taxes on the non-charitable part of their operations. – CHRIS DORNIN/GOLDEN DOME NEWS

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