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Volume 7 - Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 105

Opinions of Counsel index

Taxable status date (agricultural value assessment - soil reclassification); Agricultural exemption (soil classification) (change) - Agriculture and Markets Law, § 305; Real Property Tax Law, §§ 302, 550; 1 NYCRR 370:

A reclassification of soils determined after the filing of the final assessment roll does not warrant a recalculation of an agricultural value assessment.

A landowner received an agricultural value assessment and a partial exemption from real property taxation (Agriculture and Markets Law, §305(1)). Subsequently, after completion of the final assessment roll, the soils on the land in question were reclassified by the “Soil Conservation Department”. The question is whether the exemption granted on the basis of the earlier classification should be recomputed to take into account the new soil classes.

The Agricultural Districts Law, Article 25AA of the Agriculture and Markets Law, generally provides that certain “land used in agricultural production” is eligible to receive an agricultural value assessment which may result in a partial exemption from real property taxation. In 1980, the law was amended (L.1980, c.79) to require agricultural value assessments to be based upon an income capitalization methodology, to be used in conjunction with a land classification system developed by the Department of Agriculture and Markets. To receive an agricultural value assessment, section 305(l)(a) now provides, in part, that:

[Such] assessment shall be granted only upon an annual application by the owner of such land on a form prescribed by the state board of equalization and assessment. The applicant shall furnish to the assessor such information as the state board of equalization and assessment shall require, including land classification information prepared for his land used in agricultural production by the soil and water conservation district office in his county. Such application shall be filed with the assessor of the city, town, village or county having the power to assess property for taxation on or before the appropriate taxable status date of such city, town, village or county. [Emphasis added].

If the property for which application has been made satisfies the statutory criteria, the assessor must then compute an agricultural value ceiling using the land classification information supplied by the landowner and the agricultural values per acre established annually by the State Board of Equalization and Assessment. If the assessed value of the eligible land exceeds the ceiling, the difference is exempt from taxation; if the assessed value of the eligible land is lower than the ceiling, the land will be taxed on the basis of the lower assessed value.

The land classification information which must be submitted to the assessor consists of a soil map and a soil group worksheet (9 NYCRR 194.7(c)). These documents are prepared at the request of the landowner by the local Soil and Water Conservation District office pursuant to rules established by the Commissioner of Agriculture and Markets (1 NYCRR 370). The soil group worksheet provides the assessor with a tabulation of the number of acres in each of the soil groups contained in the land classification system established by the Department of Agriculture and Markets. The acreage tabulations are derived from the soil map and by reference to a locally adopted “County Master List of Agricultural Soil Groups” which is prepared on the basis of, and must be consistent with, the “State Master List of Agricultural Soil Groups”, established and maintained by the Department of Agriculture and Markets (1 NYCRR 370.4, 370.5). The assessor uses this information to calculate the agricultural value ceiling (9 NYCRR 194.11).

If a landowner believes that the land classification designation for any of his land is inappropriate, he may petition the Commissioner of Agriculture and Markets to review the designation (1 NYCRR 370.11). The petition must be submitted to either the County Agricultural Districting Advisory Committee or the County Soil and Water Conservation District office “subsequent to the adoption of the County Master List of Soil Groups but at least 30 days prior to the applicable taxable status date. . .” (1 NYCRR 370.1 l(a)). Upon completing its review, either the Agricultural Districting Advisory Committee or the Soil and Water Conservation District office must mail a written recommendation to the Department of Agriculture and Markets at least 14 days prior to the applicable taxable status date (id., 307.11(d)). The Commissioner of Agriculture and Markets must then render a final determination within 10 working days, or the matter is deemed resolved in favor of the landowner (id., 370.11(e)).

As a general matter, section 302 of the Real Property Tax Law provides that the taxable status of real property must be determined annually as of a certain date and that real property must be assessed on the basis of its condition and ownership as of such date. Ordinarily, applications for exemptions from taxation are also determined on the basis of the condition and ownership of real property as of taxable status date (R.P. Adams Co., Inc. v. Nist, 97 Misc.2d 374, 411 N.Y.S.2d 504 (S.Ct., Erie Co., 1978), revd. on other grounds, 72 A.D.2d 908, 422 N.Y.S.2d 184 (4th Dept., 1979); but cf., Rochester Housing Authority v. Sibley Corp., 77 Misc.2d 205, 351 N.Y.S.2d 934 (S.Ct., Monroe Co., 1974), aff’d, 47 A.D.2d 708, 367 N.Y.S.2d 969 (4th Dept., 1975); see also, Newsday, Inc. v. Town of Huntington, 55 N.Y.2d 272, 434 N.E.2d 226, 449 N.Y.S.2d 157 (1982); cf., Real Property Tax Law, §520). Upon the filing of the tentative assessment roll, the right of the assessor to change entries on the roll is limited to those ordered by the board of assessment review or a court (6 Op. Counsel SBEA No. 53; cf., Agriculture and Markets Law, §305(l)(c)).

Since the land classification information was revised subsequent to taxable status date (viz., after the completion of the final assessment roll) the only remaining question to be resolved is whether the correction of errors procedure of the Real Property Tax Law (Article 5, title 3; §§550 et seq.) would be applicable. Title 3 of Article 5 provides for the correction of certain specifically defined “clerical errors”, “errors in essential fact” and “unlawful entries” on assessment rolls and tax rolls. The facts here do not indicate that an error was made in preparing the assessment roll. (In general, changes in qualifications for exemptions apply only to assessment rolls prepared on the basis of subsequent taxable status dates. See, e.g., 6 Op. Counsel SBEA Nos. 8, 10; 7 id. No. 25).

Accordingly, where land classification information is revised subsequent to completion of the final assessment roll, there is no procedure which would permit a redetermination of an agricultural value assessment appearing on the final assessment roll on the basis of the revised land classification information. However, the revised land classification information must be utilized in connection with the application to be made in the following year.

March 29, 1982

Updated: