By Jo-Anne MacKenzie
---- — LONDONDERRY — Rockingham Superior Court Judge Marguerite Wageling ruled recently the town has been “at best, lackadaisical in their handling and documentation of impact fees.”
The ruling, issued Dec. 31, was in response to a request from the town to the court. Londonderry officials were seeking guidance with regard to refunding more than $1.2 million in impact fees either collected erroneously or not spent within the required six-year timeframe.
In June, the town announced it would make “significant” changes in the way it would handle impact fees collected from developers and other property owners.
That announcement came shortly after former Town Manager David Caron resigned, effective July 20. But Caron had been on leave since June 18 and the impact fee problem came to light during his leave.
Town councilors have never directly blamed Caron for the mess, but Chairman John Farrell said at the time circumstances “rendered it advisable for Mr. Caron and the town to sever their relationship.”
Since then. police Chief William Hart has been serving as interim town manager. He is not a candidate for the permanent post. Councilors are in the process or reviewing applications and interviewing candidates.
On July 2, Hart announced the town would refund more than $1.2 million in impact fees.
Twenty-five property owners were owed refunds of at least $5,000. But the town also owed refunds of lesser amounts to owners of more than 400 properties.
The town had more than $1 million in an escrow account and the rest of the refunds would come from a surplus account, Farrell said earlier.
Without blaming Caron for the impact fee imbroglio, Farrell said earlier Hart had made changes in accounting and record-keeping to correct the problem.
Now, the town has hired an independent auditor, which Wageling directed officials to do, to audit impact fee collections and expenditures dating all the way back to 1994.
The town has no intention of appealing Wageling’s decision, according to a press release issued Tuesday.
“Londonderry brought the matter to the court’s attention, seeking guidance to correct a situation it discovered had been mishandled ...” the statement read, in part.
Much of Wageling’s nine-page decision is devoted to numerous motions to intervene, specific to individual property owners’ requests for relief. Succinctly, the judge found whoever paid the impact fees, either collected, spent in error or not spent within the legal timeframe, is the one who will receive the refund.
But that won’t happen until the independent auditor completes a full audit of the 18-year period.
“The court sees a full accounting of the impact fee program to be the only solution to the town’s widespread misfeasance,” Wageling wrote.
The town hired an independent auditor Monday.
Caron, meanwhile, has been serving as acting town administrator for North Hampton since early September. But, it was recently reported, that community has chosen another candidate for the permanent job there.