Volume 3 - Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 99
Real Property Tax Service Agency (relationship to county government) (responsibilities) - Real Property Tax Law, §§ 1530, 1532:
The Real Property Tax Service Agency is an independent arm of county government and is to be distinguished from other aspects of county government. The county legislature may assign additional duties to the Agency as specified in Real Property Tax Law, § 1532.
Our opinion has been requested as to the relationship of the county real property tax service agency to other aspects of county government. It appears that according to a feasibility study underway in a county, recommendations are to be made calling for a new county department, one proposal being that the real property tax service agency be incorporated as a division of this new department.
The relevant state law is Article 15-A of the Real Property Tax Law commonly referred to as the “Assessment Improvement Law”, enacted by Chapter 957 of the Laws of 1970. Section 1558 of that law expressly prohibits the adoption of a “charter law” or local law which is inconsistent with the provisions of Article 15-A.
The office of director and the agency itself are to be distinguished from other aspects of county government. Article 15-A requires that in each county, with certain exceptions, there shall be a real property tax service agency, the head of which shall be the director of real property tax services. Section 1530 of such law sets forth state standards relating to the selection, appointment, term of office and civil service classification of the director of such agency. These standards, coupled with the powers and duties of the director of real property tax services contained in section 1532, establish that the county director of real property tax services is to be an independent officer reporting directly to the county legislative body. Recognizing that the duties assigned to the agency must be performed impartially, the law requires that the real property tax service agency be an independent arm of county government.
Noting that the structural organization of a county does vary depending upon the individual needs of the county, the determination as to whether the agency is to be a separate agency or department, or whether it should be included as part of an existing or new department, is one to be made by the county. However, whatever the determination, the independent character of the agency should be preserved.
In this connection it should be also observed that while the law specifies certain duties and responsibilities which must be performed by the county director and the real property tax service agency, the law also provides ( § 1532 (3) and (4)) for the county legislative body to assign to the director additional duties. Such duties together with those mandated by the law could form the basis for a county department in which all services pertaining to assessment and taxation of property may be combined (e.g., the sale and disposition of real property acquired by tax sale, performing duties of the county clerk in relation to real property transfer reports, and any other services pertaining to assessment and taxation administration).
May 23, 1974