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Volume 7 - Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 31

Opinions of Counsel index

Assessment roll, form (computer printout) (microfiche record maintenance) - Real Property Tax Law, § 502:

The use of microfiche for the production and public inspection of assessment rolls and tax rolls is permissible under the Real Property Tax Law. However, each assessing unit and tax collecting municipality must produce at least one hard copy of the tentative and final assessment rolls and the tax roll.

We have been asked to consider whether computer generated assessment rolls and tax rolls, supported by microfiche record maintenance, satisfy the various requirements of the Real Property Tax Law and provisions of special acts applicable to Nassau County.

Many of the provisions of the Real Property Tax Law which mandate the form and contents of assessment rolls and tax rolls were enacted long before the development of either computers or microfiche. For example, portions of section 502, which prescribes the form of the assessment roll, are the same as they were in the last century including the requirement that the assessor make certain “entries” on the roll (see, e.g., L.1892, c.202). Section 904, which is substantially similar to another turn-of-the-century statute (see, e.g., L.1901, c.158), provides that the warrant authorizing and directing the collecting officer of a city or town to collect taxes must be “annexed” to the assessment roll.

Thus, these statutes contemplate both manual entries on the roll and a physical annexation of the warrant to the roll, at which time the assessment roll becomes the tax roll (§904(1)). Provisions in the County Government Law of Nassau County (see, e.g., §607) and the Nassau County Administrative Code (see, e.g., §§5-3.0, 6-7.0) similarly refer to a physical annexation of the warrant to the roll.

More recent statutes also provide for the physical annexation of material to the tax roll. For example, the administrative correction of errors procedure (Real Property Tax Law, Article 5, title 3), requires annexation to the tax roll or warrant of both an application for correction and the order of the tax levying body with respect thereto (§554(6)). In contrast, other recent statutes and administrative regulations make reference to and contemplate computer assisted assessing (Real Property Tax Law, Article 15-B; Local Finance Law, §11.00 (53-1); see also, 9 NYCRR 192).

We are thus presented with the question of whether modern technology is compatible with an established administrative system based upon long-standing statutory law. Given the enactment of laws such as Article 15-B of the Real Property Tax Law, it is our opinion that provisions in the Real Property Tax Law (and corresponding provisions of law applicable to Nassau County) should not be read so literally as to frustrate the obvious advances and advantages of modern technology. In many instances, provisions of law were enacted or were derived from laws enacted prior to the development of the computer and corresponding technology such as microfiche. Rather than finding these provisions to be inconsistent with more modern statutes, we believe that wherever possible the laws should be read in pari materia. In other words, “the statutes being in pari materia, they are to be construed together as though forming part of the same statute, and should, if possible, be given uniformity of application and construction and applied harmoniously and consistently” (McKinney’s Consolidated Laws of New York Annotated, Book 1, Statutes, §221).

Accordingly, it is our opinion that the use of microfiche for the production and public inspection of assessment and tax rolls is permissible under the provisions of the Real Property Tax Law and the Nassau County Local Government Law and Administrative Code. However, in the absence of clarifying legislation it is apparent that the use of microfiche assessment and tax rolls is an invitation to litigation. For example, accessibility to the tentative assessment roll by the public is essential (Real Property Tax Law, §§506, 1526). Thus, an assessing unit using a microfiche tentative assessment roll must have a sufficient number of microfiche readers available for public use. Given the fact that members of the public may not be familiar with such devices, staff must also be available to assist. Additionally, since the assessment roll is clearly a public document which may be copied pursuant to the Freedom of Information Law (Public Officers Law, Article 6), the assessing unit must be prepared to supply copies of portions of the roll in paper form.

Moreover, in order to ensure both strict compliance with law and the total integrity of the public documents under discussion, we also consider it necessary for each assessing unit and tax collecting municipality to produce at least one hard (i.e., paper) copy of the tentative and final assessment rolls and the tax roll. It is the hard copy of the final roll to which the assessor’s verification must be attached (Real Property Tax Law, §514) and which must be placed on file (§516). Likewise, a hard copy tax roll, to which the warrant for collection is annexed, must be produced and placed on file. Moreover, pursuant to Nassau County Administrative Code, section 5-23.0, the receiver must return the hard copy tax roll to the county treasurer. If it is so desired, information may also be submitted to the county treasurer in microfiche form.

April 10, 1979

NOTE: Effective January 1, 1982, Article 15-C was added to the Real Property Tax Law. This Article provided the first statutory standards for systems of real property tax administration which use electronic data processing.

Updated: