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Volume 11 - Opinions of Counsel SBRPS No. 57

Opinions of Counsel index

Assessor (sole appointed assessor); Assessors, Board of (switch to sole assessor) - Real Property Tax Law, §§ 102(3), 310, 328:

Once a city or town has switched to a sole appointed assessor, there is no provision authorizing a reversion to one or more elected assessors.

We have received an inquiry about the office of assessor (Real Property Tax Law, § 102(3)), specifically, whether a town that has a sole appointed assessor may opt to revert to the three member elected board of assessors it had at one time. We agree with a 1972 opinion of the State Comptroller (28 Op.State Compt. 143) that it may not. That opinion construed sections of the Real Property Tax Law that have since been renumbered or repealed, so some further explanation with updated statutory references seems appropriate.

Chapter 957 of the Laws of 1970 made a series of substantial amendments to the RPTL primarily through the addition of a new Article 15-A to that law. Among other things, that Article included provisions creating the office of county director of real property tax services (§ 1530) and the independent board of assessment review (§ 1524 [repealed]), as well as creating new tax map requirements (RPTL, § 1534 [repealed]. {1}  No less significant, new section 1522 [repealed] created the office of sole appointed assessor. As we explained in 9 Op.Counsel SBEA No. 93:

In general, section 6 of chapter 957 of the Laws of 1970 terminated the terms of office of incumbent assessors (elected and appointed) as of September 30, 1971. Appointed assessors began six-year terms of office the following day. However, former section 1556 of the RPTL authorized any city or town, in which, on August 1, 1970, “one or more of the offices of assessor is elective,” to adopt a local law no later than April 30, 1971, providing for the continuation of the “office or offices of assessor” as elective. {2}

In other words, unless a city or town acted promptly to retain its elected assessor or assessors, the terms of such officials ended on September 30, 1971, the initial term of the sole appointed assessor commencing the next day. If a city or town did in fact opt to retain its elected board of assessors, it still had the statutory option to switch thereafter to a sole appointed assessor (RPTL, § 1557 [repealed]).

The provisions of Article 15-A were related to and somewhat redundant of other longstanding provisions of the RPTL. Consequently, an analysis of the law relating to such matters as assessment review necessitated review of sometimes overlapping and redundant provisions divided between Articles 5 and 15-A of the RPTL. To eliminate the necessity to review multiple law sections dealing with similar matters and facilitate an understanding of the law, a codification effort was commenced.

In 1982, a new title 1-A was added (by c.714) to Article 5 of the RPTL governing administrative assessment review. Among other provisions, sections 1524 and 1526 were repealed (L.1982, c.714, § 28) with the provisions thereof incorporated into those within the new title. Two years later, chapter 472 of the Laws of 1984 added a new title 2 to Article 3 of the RPTL regarding assessors and assessing training. {3}  Included were new sections 310 concerning appointed assessors and 328 permitting assessing units that retained their elected boards to switch to a sole appointed assessor. Accordingly, provisions such as sections 1522 and 1557, having been rendered surplusage, were repealed (bill § 7). Since, by that date, the deadline for opting to retain elected assessors had long since passed, section 1556 was simply repealed, its provisions no longer being necessary. In 1986, chapter 405 (§ 12) repealed section 1520 of the RPTL, the last provision of title 1 of Article 15-A, defining “local government” for purposes of that Article, {4} and titles 2 through 5 of that Article were renumbered to be 1 through 4.

Lastly, in 1993, chapter 293 added section 329 to the RPTL to permit those cities and towns that had opted under former section 1556 to retain their elected boards of assessors, to opt to switch to a sole elected assessor. That same chapter amended section 328 to delete the reference to former section 1556 and to recognize the new option of sole elected assessor.

The provisions of section 310 of the RPTL, requiring a sole appointed assessor, generally apply to all cities and towns except New York City and those within Nassau and Tompkins Counties which assess at the county level (RPTL, § 334(1)). {5}  In addition, those cities and towns which opted timely to retain their elected boards of assessors under former section 1556 may continue such boards or they may change to a sole appointed or a sole elected assessor. Finally, a city or town that has a sole elected assessor may switch to a sole appointed assessor. Once a city or town has switched to a sole appointed assessor, either as a result of the 1970 law or subsequently by local option, there is no provision authorizing a reversion to one or more elected assessors.

May 10, 2004

{1}  As is explained in the text (infra), some of the provisions of Article 15-A were partially redundant of others in the law. They were thereafter moved or merged elsewhere in the law while other provisions of Article 15-A deemed unnecessary were repealed.

{2}  See endnote one.

{3}  That chapter also added new section 503 governing tax maps. Section 568 was rendered surplusage and repealed.

{4}  A technical amendment to section 1544 made the definition unnecessary.

{5}  An exception is also made for cities that had populations in excess of 100,000 as of August 1, 1970.