Campground Tax Enforcement Uneven in New Hampshire
Click here to read an earlier story in Woodall's Campground Management about this tax dilemma.
As the seasonal tenants return each May to Deering's Oxbow Campground near Henniker, N.H., wiping dust from their idle campers and welcoming neighbors from a winter away, it's a homecoming of sorts. But this year, an odd arrival split the campsite in two: those who got property tax bills and those who didn't.
The campground straddles the Hillsboro-Deering town line, and owner Tom Irving said there were no hard feelings when campers on the Deering side of his site received first-time tax bills while the Hillsboro campers did not, the Concord Monitor reported.
Everyone saw it coming.
"It's not like it's news to anybody," said Irving, who watched last year as campers at Sandy Beach in Contoocook unsuccessfully fought their unexpected tax bills.
Now Irving is one of at least three local campsite owners whose seasonal renters have been taxed for the first time this year. Mile-Away Campground and Keyser Pond Campground, both of Henniker, also received first-time bills this year.
While many campers involved argue the tax itself isn't legal because they don't own property, Irving said the bigger issue in the state – and to a smaller extent within his own campsite – is the tax not being uniformly applied.
Henniker officials also say they're worried the Department of Revenue Administration (DRA) isn't proactively enforcing the tax to all campsites.
"I don't view any tax with pom-poms. But if they're going to be assessing this tax, I want to make sure they're assessing it to all the towns," said Kris Blomback, chairman of the board of selectmen in Henniker. "Otherwise it puts our businesses at a disadvantage."
Blomback said Henniker is only enforcing the tax this year after DRA officials got wind of a board conversation about the campsites and followed up to make sure the tax was being applied.
"The selectmen did not feel that it was worth the amount of effort that the town needs to put into it to assess the tax," he said. "The net effect is going to be no increase in revenue to the town. You now have to send your assessor out there. There are a handful of properties."
David Cornell, assistant director of the property appraisal division at the DRA, said the department has recently increased its efforts to tax all campsites after becoming aware that some assessors were not properly taxing the properties. He said the matter was recently discussed at a gathering of about 50 assessors from around the state.
Up to Assessors to Identify Who Gets Taxed
Cornell said the state is currently taxing all campsites it is aware of, but that ultimately it falls on the individual town assessors to distinguish what land is taxable.
"We certainly would try to do our best to educate the assessors across the state to follow the laws," he said. "If it's taxable, they should be taxing it."
Structures in the state are considered real estate and therefore taxable if they are intended to be more or less permanent, stationary, used as a dwelling and fully enclosed. According to DRA officials, this makes many of the recreational vehicles at seasonal campgrounds taxable because they are often left at the site when the owners go elsewhere for the winter.
But at Mile-Away, a cardboard sign posted outside Jan Hosmer's camper states to visitors her camper is anything but permanent. It can be moved in 30 minutes, the message reads.
In actuality, Hosmer said, she could have it gone in about half that time.
"I can pull this to Maine. I can pull this to another campground," she said, pointing to the camper she may set up somewhere else next summer if she can't get her $573 annual tax bill abated.
100 Campers Got Tax Bills in May
This is the third summer Hosmer has spent at Mile-Away with her husband and granddaughter. About 100 campers there got bills in May.
A few lots down from Hosmer, Annette Laurent and Jennifer Hasbrook said they, too, are thinking about leaving if their $760 bill isn't waived. They set up a camper here last summer because Laurent's sister also rents at the site, and they said they may move to another town in New Hampshire that doesn't tax campers or possibly to Massachusetts.
"I think it's wrong," said Laurent. "We don't own this property. We can move this camper in 20 minutes if we wanted to."
Bob French, who has owned Mile-Away for a decade and is also a selectman in town, said he doesn't see the tax as fair because he can kick a camper off his site with 24-hours notice.
"If there was a big discrepancy between myself and that person, I could just say you need to leave now and yet they still owe the tax bill for the entire year," he said. "So how is that permanent for them?"
Many campers at Mile-Away also pointed out they receive no benefits from the town – like access to schools or the library – for paying their taxes. And while many plan to pay their bills by July 1 to avoid interest, they have placed "For Sale" signs in their windows as a form of protest and are circulating a petition around town.
Irving said campers at his site are receiving town benefits like access to the library and dump in return for paying taxes. He said he has been working with Deering officials for more than a year to make sure the tax was implemented fairly, and found the town to be forthcoming and fair.
At Mile-Away, though, many campers felt they were kept in the dark. Laurent said she got a letter from the town notifying her of the change on the same day she got her actual bill.
The Hosmers said most of the campers there had paid rent for the season a few weeks before their bills arrived, which Jake Hosmer said gave him no time to consider going anywhere else.
"Do I want to take it to Maine?" he said, mirroring his wife's thoughts. "Or do I want to sell it and go to Florida and sit in a rocking chair?"