DHMC strikes back against tax

by Andrew Allport | 5/19/98 5:00am

After paying over $6 million in property taxes to the town of Lebanon, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center is fighting back. The medical center filed a petition and motion in Grafton County Superior Court last Thursday to contest the denial of its property tax exemption status.

DHMC, which asked for a property tax exemption on the basis of its role as a non-profit, charitable and educational center, claims that the Lebanon Board of Assessors improperly denied their request, according to a DHMC press release.

"We could not disagree more," Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital President James Varnum said. "Charitability is at the core of our mission."

Adele Fulton, the lawyer who prepared the report on DHMC's tax status, said DHMC "cannot be untaxed indefinitely."

Fulton said DHMC cannot be granted continual tax exemption -- under N.H. state law, their charitable status must be reviewed every year.

According to the medical center's press release, DHMC paid $2 million to Lebanon when it was built, and another $5 million in roadway, water and sewer improvements. In light of these fees, DHMC charged the City of Lebanon with a breach of contract after the city decided to tax the facility.

"These charges have no merit," Fulton told The Dartmouth yesterday. Lebanon cannot agree to overlook any requests for exemption, she said.

Fulton's report on DHMC identified other facilities in similar situations that have been denied tax-exempt status, like the Massachusetts Medical Society, which was found to benefit its members, not the general public.

Fulton's report concluded that DHMC, like the Massachusetts Medical Society, "functions solely as a supporting organization for its members."

DHMC, which includes the College's medical school, The Hitchcock Clinic, Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital, and the Veterans Affairs hospital in White River Junction, has requested that Grafton County Superior Court act with expedited treatment on the petition in order to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.

Varnum said this ruling is "extremely important" to DHMC, and he "fully expects to prevail in this appeal."

DHMC already paid $6 million in property taxes to the City of Lebanon earlier this month as part of its 1997 bill, after the clinic's application for charitable status was rejected in April.