State rules church lot subject to taxes

LYNDEBOROUGH — Last month, the N.H. Board of Tax and Land Appeals ruled that a 4.25-acre lot on Forest Road owned by the United Church of Lyndeborough is not entitled to a full religious tax exemption. Now the town is asking the church to pay about $1,100 in taxes and accumulated interest on the 2012 tax bill for the property

The lot contains a lean-to style building called Cutter Chapel, which the Rev. Paul Lemire, the church pastor, said is used during the summer for a weekly prayer service. The chapel is open at any time to the public as a spot for reflection and prayer. It has two church pews facing each other on the side and three windows made of glass bricks, with some of the windows tinted to form a cross.

Until 2012, the town had granted a full exemption on the lot, which is assessed at about $89,000. But in August 2012, the town denied the church’s request, granting an exemption only on about one-tenth of an acre — the land on which the chapel itself sits and the driveway leading in to the chapel. The chapel and the land it’s on are assessed at $44,200, according to Town Administrator Kate Thorndike, so the town is actually taxing the church on about half the assessed value of the overall site.

The church appealed that ruling to the Board of Tax and Land Appeals, arguing that the precedents established in previous years should apply and that the town had made no effort to investigate or communicate with the church prior to denying the exemption.

In denying the appeal, members of the Board of Tax and Land Appeals wrote that the denial of a full exemptions was proper, because the town granted a partial exemption based on how the chapel itself has been used and the remaining 4.15 acres do not qualify for an exemption because they are not being occupied and used directly for a religious purpose.

The board also ruled that the town should not be bound by its 2009 determination that the property was entitled to a full tax exemption, because assessments and requests for tax exemptions are done annually.

“The fact a taxpayer was granted a tax exemption for one or more prior years does not result in automatic entitlement to an exemption in 2012 or future years,” board members wrote.

Town officials have said the burden of proving that the land is being used for religious purposes falls to the church. According to the Board of Tax and Land Appeals ruling, Lemire and his wife, Mary Lemire, had testified that the church plans to build a trail along the perimeter of the land in the future, with stations on the trail where people may pause for exercise and spiritual contemplation. But the board ruled that the 4.15 acres, unlike the land where the chapel sits, were not being used in 2012 for religious purposes.

The church has 30 days in which to request a rehearing of the ruling, which was issued on March 25.

Lemire did not return calls from the Ledger-Transcript seeking comment on the ruling.

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.

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