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Volume 7 - Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 71

Opinions of Counsel index

Forest and reforested lands exemption (eligible tract-certification and filing) (change in level of assessment - State Board certification) - Real Property Tax Law, § 480:

Pursuant to section 480(3)fa) and (b), the assessor may increase or decrease the assessment on land classified under the Fisher Act only after the State Board has certified the percentage of material change in the level of assessment. To determine whether certain lands have been classified under the Act, reference should be had to records of the county clerk, in whose office copies of certifications under the Act must be filed.

We have been asked whether certain land is classified as an “eligible tract” of forest land for exemption purposes under the Fisher Act (Real Property Tax Law, §480), and whether, without prior approval by the State Board, an assessor may adjust the assessed value of land classified under the Fisher Act “to bring it into line with other land values”.

The Fisher Act provides for a ceiling assessment in the case of eligible tracts of forest land; i.e., the assessment may not exceed “the valuation fixed at the time the application for classification is filed” (§480(3)(a)). Although owners of otherwise eligible tracts of forest land have been prohibited since September 1, 1974 from applying to classify land under the Act, owners of eligible tracts who qualified their land prior to that date could elect to continue to have their land so classified until such time as they withdraw the tract from the program or remove the forest growth (L.1974, c.814).

As part of the application procedure under the Fisher Act, the Real Property Tax Law (§480(4)) provides that the Conservation Department (now the Department of Environmental Conservation) shall review the application initially filed with the assessor, and file a certificate of approval with the county clerk of the county in which the tract is located. The county clerk is directed to record the certification of approval in the book of miscellaneous records. Thus, if there is any question whether a certain tract of forest land is classified under the Fisher Act, the appropriate records in the office of the county clerk may be consulted.

With respect to the inquiry as to the circumstances under which an assessor may adjust the assessed value of land classified under the Fisher Act, the Real Property Tax Law, section 480(3)(a) and (b) (as amended by L.1973, c.713) provides that while an assessor may increase or decrease the assessment on land classified under the Fisher Act to reflect a change in level of assessment of all other property on the assessment roll(s), he may do so only after the State Board has certified the percentage of any such change in level. The State Board will certify the percentage of any material change in the level of assessment in the form of a factor, either upon its own motion in the case of towns known to contain Fisher Act property, or upon application by the assessor. To adjust the assessed value of land classified under the Fisher Act to reflect a change in the level of assessment, the current assessment is multiplied by the factor certified by the State Board. The resulting adjusted ceiling assessment constitutes the taxable assessed value of the property.

For changes in levels of assessment which occurred on assessment rolls prepared in 1973 and earlier, factors were established to be applied against the assessment of each tract of classified lands appearing on 1974 tentative assessment rolls. Where a change in level occurred on the 1974 assessment roll, a uniform townwide factor was supplied to be applied to assessments appearing on the final 1974 assessment roll. A uniform townwide factor has been so certified for assessment rolls prepared in 1975 and in subsequent years whenever a material change in level of assessment occurs with respect to other property appearing on the same roll. Such factor is certified after tentative completion of the roll and the hearing of complaints. Therefore, to compute the final assessment the factor must be applied to the tentative assessment which should include the previous adjustments to the original ceiling assessment, unless the board of assessment review had determined a different assessment after a hearing upon complaint.

October 23, 1980

Updated: