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Volume 10 - Opinions of Counsel SBRPS No. 54

Opinions of Counsel index

Assessment review, board of (administrative hearing panels) (powers and duties) - Real Property Tax Law, § 523-a:

Where administrative hearing panels are appointed to hear assessment complaints, the appointing authority (e.g., town board) has discretion as to setting the starting date(s) of service, subject to the statutory requirement of a one-year term of office.

The number of panel members who may be appointed may not exceed two times the number of board of assessment review members who heard complaints in the preceding year; there is no provision for “stand-by” members.

So long as a majority of a single panel hears and determines a complaint, the chairman of the board of assessment review may change a panel’s configuration for another complaint.

In a year where administrative hearing panels are used, a taxpayer’s right to administrative review is to be heard by a panel, not the regular board of assessment review, unless the board rejects the panel’s recommendation and rehears the complaint.

An assessing unit is conducting a revaluation and anticipates receiving more assessment complaints (or “grievances”) than usual. Revaluation or update projects (RPTL, §§102(12-a), (22)), often accompanied by a significant change in level of assessment, frequently prompt the filing of an unusually high number of complaints. Given the expected number of complaints, the town requests our opinion concerning the workings of administrative hearing panels as authorized by section 523-a of the Real Property Tax Law.

Section 523-a permits the assessing unit’s appointing authority to appoint such panels whenever it deems it appropriate to do so (§523-a(1)). The appointment of hearing panels permits the hearing of more than one grievance at a time. The State Board conceived and developed the panel system in order to facilitate administrative assessment review in jurisdictions with large numbers of complaints. {1}

As stated in the State Board’s memorandum explaining the panel option:

[Section 523-a authorizes] assessing units to appoint up to ten temporary members to boards of assessment review to serve on administrative hearing panels in order to assist in the assessment review process. The temporary members [are] subject to the same qualifications, training and disclosure requirements as the permanent members of the board of assessment review. The ... panels ... hear complaints in relation to assessments and ... have the same powers and duties as those granted to the board of assessment review pursuant to RPTL, §525, except that the panels ... only recommend final assessments to the board. In the event that the board of assessment review fails to adopt the panel’s recommendation, the board [is] required to hold a second hearing on the complaint, upon notice to the assessor and the property owner (McKinney’s 1986 Session Laws of New York, p.2847).

The first question concerns the terms of office of the panel members. Section 523-a(2) provides that those panel members are to be appointed to one-year terms of office as contrasted with the five-year terms of the board of assessment review (RPTL, §523(1)(c)). Unlike section 523(1)(c), which provides that the term of office of an appointee to the board of assessment review commences on October first and expires on the thirtieth day of September five years thereafter, section 523-a does not specify on what day a panel member’s term begins or ends. As such, this gives the appointing authority (e.g., town board) discretion as to setting the starting date(s) of service, subject to the statutory requirement of a one-year term.

The second question concerns the legality of “stand-by” panel members who would only be empaneled as needed. The number of panel members who may be appointed may not exceed two times the number of board of assessment review members who heard complaints in the preceding year (RPTL, §523-a(2)). So, if last year the board consisted of three members, six panel members may be appointed, and up to three, three-member panels empaneled to hear complaints. There is no authority for “stand-by” panel members just as there is no authority for stand-by board of assessment review members.

The next question concerns the reassignment of panel members. In appointing panels, the chairman of the board of assessment review is to appoint panels consisting of at least one member of the board of assessment review and not more than two temporary panel appointees (RPTL, §523-a(3)). The statute does not address the switching or reassignment of panel members. Accordingly, so long as a majority of a single panel hears and determines a complaint, there is nothing to prohibit the chairman of the board of assessment review from changing a panel’s configuration for another complaint.

Finally, we are told that some taxpayers object to having their complaint heard by a panel instead of the board of assessment review. The question is whether these taxpayers may demand a hearing from the regular board in lieu of a panel. In a year where the assessing unit uses administrative hearing panels, the taxpayer’s right to administrative review (RPTL, Art. 5, title 1-A) is to be heard by a panel. The taxpayer has no right to be heard exclusively by the regular board of assessment review. That board will rehear the taxpayer’s complaint if and only if the board disagrees with the panel’s recommended final assessment (RPTL, §523-a(5)).

January 27, 1998


{1}  The panel option was first used in the City of Rochester’s 1984 revaluation (L.1984, c.2). The option was then made available statewide with the enactment of section 523-a of the RPTL (L.1986, c.191).

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