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Volume 11 - Opinions of Counsel SBRPS No. 123

Opinions of Counsel index

Alternative veterans exemption (local law) (deadline for changing exemption limitations); Equalization rates (county rates - generally) (partial exemptions); Taxable status date (alternative veterans exemption) (increase in limitation after taxable status date) - Real Property Tax Law, §§ 302, 458-a, 844:

To be applicable to a particular year’s tax levy, a local law to change the exemption limitations in the alternative veterans exemption must be adopted by the taxable status date of the assessment roll to be used for such levy.

Where a county adopts a local law to change its exemption limitations for purposes of the alternative veterans exemption on a date which is timely for implementation as to town assessment rolls but too late for implementation on a city’s assessment roll (or vice-versa), the county may choose to delay the effective date of its local law so that city and town residents receive the same level of county exemption on a given year’s county tax bill. If the county’s local law is implemented on different years’ town and city assessment rolls, the county legislature may ensure against a shift in the tax burden in its county equalization by including the alternative veterans exemption amounts in taxable assessed value.

We have received an inquiry concerning the alternative veterans exemption (Real Property Tax Law, § 458-a). On March 31, 2008, a county legislature raised the dollar limitations applicable to the exemption (§ 458-a(2)(d)(ii)) intending those increases to apply to the 2009 county tax. Given its fiscal calendar, a city within that county filed its final 2008 city assessment roll that same date utilizing the former dollar limitations. The question is if the city may change its final roll to reflect the new higher limits. If not, city officials are concerned that implementing the higher limits on town assessment rolls within the county will result in unfairness for city residents, both veterans and non-veterans alike: veterans in their not receiving as great an exemption for county purposes as their fellow town veterans and all city residents through apportionment of the county tax.

There is no provision of law authorizing the city to “reopen” its final 2008 assessment roll to change the exemption limits. As is discussed below, on those occasions when such changes have been authorized, the State Legislature has included specific provisions.

Since the county’s amendment was adopted after the March 1, 2008 taxable status date applicable to the towns within the county (RPTL, § 302), in our opinion, the higher limits should first be applied to 2009 assessment rolls (to be used for the 2010 county tax levy). We have previously addressed similar situations.

In 7 Op.Counsel SBEA No. 25, we construed the senior citizens exemption (RPTL, § 467) and discussed several amendments made to that law by State legislation enacted after the applicable annual taxable status date. We extended a conclusion previously reached as to other exemptions to the senior citizens exemption: “absent a specific legislative declaration of a retroactive intent, the statutes were to apply only to assessment rolls prepared on the basis of taxable status dates occurring on or after the effective date of each act.” Similarly, in 5 Op.Counsel SBEA No. 81, we construed the enactment of the business investment exemption (RPTL, § 485-b), which became effective as of June 8, 1976, as applying to assessment rolls based upon taxable status dates occurring on or after such date.

We also addressed this issue in 8 Op.Counsel SBEA No. 20 in which a school district, which extended into a city and several towns, increased its senior citizens exemption income limit in the autumn of 1983. We stated:

The July 1, 1984 school tax roll was based on town assessment rolls prepared on the basis of a May 1, 1983 taxable status date and a city assessment roll based on a December 1, 1983 taxable status date. {1}  As this resolution was not enacted prior to the May 1, 1983 town taxable status date, the owners of properties on the 1983 town rolls were not eligible to receive the benefit of the increased income ceiling on the 1983 assessment roll.

Indeed, that opinion dealt with an analogous situation to the current one: a school district extending into a city with an earlier taxable status date than its several towns. There, the school district was concerned that its city residents receive the same higher exemption benefit in the same school tax levy as town residents, so it postponed the effective date of its resolution. Here, should local officials deem the county legislature’s March 31, 2008 local law to be timely for purposes of 2008 town assessment rolls, despite our opinion to the contrary, the county legislature might wish to delay its implementation to address any unfairness vis-à-vis city veterans.

Insofar as the county tax apportionment is concerned, the law provides a remedy so that city residents do not absorb a shift in the county tax burden which might otherwise result if higher alternative veterans exemptions are granted for town than for city veterans. That is, section 844(1) of the RPTL provides for county tax apportionment among the cities and towns therein “on the basis of the proportion of the total full valuation of taxable real property within the county which is located within each city and town.”  “Taxable assessed value” is then defined to include certain “fixed dollar” exemptions (i.e., RPTL, §§ 458, 460, and 464) and “such other sections of law as the county legislature designates by resolution to be included in the total valuation.” If the higher exemption amounts are applied on the 2008 town assessment rolls, the county legislature could address the apportionment concern by including section 458-a exemption amounts in the “total assessed value” calculation used in the 2009 county tax levy.

April 16, 2008

{1}  Prior its amendment by chapter 379 of the Laws of 1984, section 302(1) of the RPTL provided for a May 1 taxable status date.