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Volume 11 - Opinions of Counsel SBRPS No. 8

Opinions of Counsel index

Taxes (collection) (partial payments) - Real Property Tax Law, § 928-a:

A county legislature’s resolution adopted pursuant to section 928-a of the Real Property Tax Law, which authorizes partial payments for purposes of “all towns in the county,” is binding upon the tax collecting officers of those towns.

We have been asked whether section 928-a of the Real Property Tax Law obliges town tax collecting officers to accept partial payments authorized by a county pursuant thereto. It does.

Section 928-a, as added by chapter 680 of the Laws of 1994, provides that a county legislature “may by resolution authorize the collecting officers in one or more of the classes of municipal corporations described herein to accept from any taxpayer at any time partial payments for or on account of taxes, special ad valorem levies or special assessments in such amount or manner...as may be prescribed by such resolution...” (subd.(1), emphasis added). One of these “classes of municipal corporations” is “all towns within the county” (subd. (2)). Once a county has adopted a partial/installment payment program for the towns in the county pursuant to section 928-a, {1} a collecting officer of such a town would have no authority to refuse to accept any payments offered in accordance with the terms of the program. Thus, we believe that if a county “authorizes” town tax collecting officers to accept partial or installment payments of taxes, the collecting officers must accept such payments. Thus, despite the statutory use of the term “authorize” rather than “direct,” we believe that the statute should be read as compelling tax collecting officers to accept such payments when so authorized.

Our conclusion is based on our analysis of the applicable law, not on any stated legislative intent. {2}  For the general rule, as we have stated on a number of occasions, is that partial payments of taxes may not be accepted in the absence of specific authority (see, e.g., 2 Op.Counsel SBEA No. 86; 9 id. Nos. 22, 80). Section 928-a enables a county to supply such authority to the collecting officers; by doing so, the county effectively removes the barrier to the acceptance of partial payments by them. It seems to us that once this barrier has been eliminated, collecting officers in the county no longer have any grounds for declining partial payments.

Indeed, if the Legislature contemplated that each town would have the final say as to whether partial payments would be accepted therein, section 928-a presumably would have vested the decision-making authority directly in the towns; there would have been no reason to give the county a say in the first place. By explicitly empowering the county to make the decision rather than the town, we think the Legislature has rather clearly expressed its intention that the policy should be set by, and applied consistently throughout, the county.

Moreover, given that the collecting officer’s primary duty is to receive tax payments (RPTL, §§102(5), 904(1), 924; Town Law, §§35, 37), and that a partial payment is a lawful tax payment in a county that has exercised the section 928-a option, a refusal by a collecting officer to accept such a payment could be characterized as an arbitrary and capricious action. In the absence of any statutory language or legislative history on this point, we think collecting officers would have considerable difficulty defending a claim that their acquiescence is required before a taxpayer may participate in a partial payment program duly established by the county pursuant to State law.

Accordingly, in our opinion, a county’s resolution pursuant to section 928-a which authorizes partial payments for purposes of “all towns in the county” is binding upon the tax collecting officers of those towns.

May 31, 2001


{1}  Installment payments may be seen as a special type of partial payments permitted by section 928-a.

{2}  We examined the Governor's bill jacket for L.1994, c.680, but found nothing in it addressing whether towns or collecting officers have any discretion in this matter.

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