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REAL PROPERTY TAX ADMINISTRATION

MINUTES
Thursday –September 18, 2008 (1:00pm – 4:45pm)
Friday - September 19, 2008 (8:30am- 12:15pm)

Facilitator: Alan Kresge
Recorder: Bonnie Brechbill

Day 1 - Thursday, September 18, 2008
Assessors: Timothy Sheares, Rick Hubner, William Quick, Lawrence Quinn, Peggy Jenkins, Curtis Schoeberl
County Directors: David Hastings, David Jackson, John McCarey, Robin Johnson, Tim Murphy
ORPS: Vic Mallison, Jim O'Keeffe, Richard Harris, Dave Williams, Tim Maher, Dennis Jersey, Tom Bellard, Don Card

Each member introduced him/herself. Minutes of the last meeting were accepted as final. Alan reviewed the agenda, including the action items from the last meeting. 

    1. Page 1 ORPS will supply recorders for RPTAC. Done.
    2. Page 3 Uniform Assessment Code, form sub-committee outside of group. Done. Met 9/15
    3. Page 5 Want Lee Kyriacou to attend both days. Lee will attend tomorrow
    4. Dates for Dec. meeting. No December meeting scheduled.

  

    1. Budget Update: Vic Mallison

      Vic said that ORPS has a $40 million operating budget, and administers $20 million in State Aid. The 3.5% reduction in operations was accomplished before he came on board on July 21, 2008. On July 22, he got a note telling him to cut by an additional 7%. “We came up with a plan, and it's not having an impact on our ability to deliver our mission,” he said. “We are not reducing staff. We are reducing by cutting non-personnel services—paper, lighting, travel costs.” Next year there will be an additional 10% reduction in the budget. There are ongoing discussions with the division of the budget. Due to attrition, ORPS has been able to come close to the amount of reduction without layoffs. “We are looking into new initiatives all the time, steered by the executive director, and some of these will cost money,” Vic added. “We are able to deliver our core mission, Budget cuts have not been as devastating within ORPS as in other agencies.” The legislature is back in session, and there have been hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts, but there are no cuts for assessing work out in the counties.

      Rick Hubner asked: Are we down 10.5 % for the fiscal year?

      Vic: At least, that, probably more. It's probably around 13% right now. We had some cushion; the ORPS budget is well-managed.

      Hubner: Is there a hiring freeze?

      Vic: Yes.

      Hubner: Is there other financing than the 5217? How do you generate enough revenue?

      Vic: No course of action has been chosen.

      Jackson: I thought ORPS was in the hole from less 5217 revenue.

      Vic: We are not expected to repay that. It is not 10% plus. We will get you fully-funded; that's separate and distinct. Our operating budget is $40 million, no matter what revenue we raise. 

    2. Grant Program Status: Dave Williams. He distributed handout titled, “Study Grants.” 

Dave said that he has received one assessing study so far. The study is about whether or not the assessing units can get together and act as one, for the purposes of reassessment. The purpose of the study is to find the best model for counties to accomplish this and to lay out viable options. It will start a dialogue of how best to get the job done.

Curt Schoeberl said that four contractors are doing 30 counties. Is there any concern about not getting fresh ideas?

Dave replied that this concern should be between the county and the contractor. “It's a local product. It's up to the county to say what is or isn't sufficient.”

Jackson asked about reimbursement to the state from the counties of the first $25,000 payment.

Dave replied that if there is no study prepared, the first $25,000 would have to be returned.

Jim O'Keeffe said that ORPS has never gone that far.

Dave said that he anticipates a lot happening in the next few months. 

    1. Legislative Update: Paul Miller and Joe Gerberg. They passed out “2008 RPT-Related Bills of Interest—Passed Both Houses—Status as of 9/18/08 (Count =68)” 

Paul said that what is new since the last meeting are the actions taken by the governor. Of 68 property-tax-related items on the handout, five have been vetoed by the governor.

Joe said that #9, Empire Zones, was “a bill that we were enthusiastic about because it takes an existing exemption and scales it back. In an Empire Zone, the local option applies to commercial and residential properties. The veto was based on the argument that it would jeopardize affordable housing projects and reasonable property development.”

Paul said he was shocked that it had passed both houses. “Then the sponsors got cold feet. The governor responded to the concerns raised.”

#37 was vetoed on the basis of cost. While it would have been nice to recognize the veterans of the Cold War, the governor couldn't justify state expenditure. #38, which would have let volunteer fire and ambulance members claim both the PIT credit and the RPT exemption, was vetoed on the basis of cost, because of the dire financial circumstances in the state. He said that cuts have to be part of the budget process. #42, which would have affected only New York City, was also vetoed. Jim O'Keeffe said that there are 125 assessors in New York City, and “we couldn't have them all sign that the one million assessments are correct.” #64 would have provided for a new stream of PILOTS relating to the W. Averell Harriman State Office Bldg. Campus. Joe said that the PILOTS would have been worth $11 million a year, except for the first year, when it would have been half of that. “This was not truly new,” he added. “The governor vetoed it citing state fiscal concerns.”

Paul said that “we can get more things added. Some one-house actions have been taken on property tax. The Senate approved the tax cap proposal on Aug. 8. On Aug. 19, both houses came back to Albany to make cuts, and the Assembly passed the circuit-breaker proposal. These are not mutually exclusive items. People are up in arms about property tax.”

This handout is up-to-date as of today, Paul added, but it is not a static document.

Legislation numbers mentioned:

Tax Cap S.8736

Circuit Breaker A./1838

“Freeze” Bill S.8737 (Part 1)

Paul said that many of these are designer bills and designer exemptions, tweaked to something that someone wants in a specific city. “This is very specialized legislation. It is a problem. We'll know by the end of the month the outcome of everything on this list. Many years, there are 100 bills on this list. This year, it's shorter and pithier.” 

    1. New Changes to FOIL: Steve Harrison  
        1. Chap. 499—requires state agencies to post subject matter lists on their websites, whether the content is available or not. “We're cobbling together memos; we'll have something on the site by deadline,” Steve said.
        2. Vetoed
        3. Adds a provision requiring agencies to segregate available and exempt records.
        4. Addresses copying costs of reproductions. “This is a significant change,” Steve said. Any records that an agency can retrieve “with reasonable effort” (two hours of staff time), they have to. They can charge the requester for any time above the two hours. They can engage an outside service, and the requester has to pay for it. Records must be provided in the medium requested, not encrypted. Records can be denied only if they are going to be used for solicitation for fund-raising purposes, not for commercial purposes.

      The muni-pro applications are on the site, but are not used to create mailing lists.

      Preparation of new records is not included. 

        1. The one on open meetings was vetoed. It would have required agencies to make records available 72 hours before a meeting.
        2. One would impose court and lawyer fees for violation of open meetings.

          

    2. Legal Issues: Joe Gerberg and Steve Harrison  

Assessment Correction Process—Hubner asked for certainty on whether omissions can be collected for anything but a one-year period.

Steve said an omission could be entered on the roll for as many years as a refund is paid for the one type of unlawful entry (i.e., that defined in RPTL, sec. 550(7)(b)).

Hubner passed out “Enhanced STAR—Senior Citizens' Exemptions General Eligibility Differences.”

Robin Johnson asked, “How do we process a correction of error for the rebate for the STAR exemption?”

Tim Maher said to send a file in to Tax and Finance, and they will send a check to the taxpayer.

Hubner asked about the amendment to the ag exemption. There is a new start-up farmland program, under which the farmer does not have to show income for several years. He's concerned when they sell the property after three years. There's no directive on how to recoup this. Joe Gerberg said that you could go back, but it must be done in a way that wouldn't discourage the start-up farmer. 

  1. New RAR Process: Tim Maher

    Tim reported that there is a new way of calculating RARs. Starting now, 

    1. RAR is equal to the residential ratio used in calculating the state equalization rate.
    2. The RAR must be done for every municipality.
    3. The RAR must be established 60 days prior to the final roll. 

    Tim added that staff had brought to the subcommittee a complicated formula. The feedback from the equalization team was to simplify it. For places not doing a reassessment, average the results to get one number. For those municipalities that are reassessing, make it 100% by March 1. If the reassessment falls through, rescind the RAR and make adjustments by March 1.

    This changes the review of the sales process. You have until October 10 to correct all your sales and transmit to the Albany office.  

  2. Sub-Group Activity Updates  
    • Equalization Project Team—Tim Maher reported that at their meeting they looked at the complaint process to see what could be improved. They also discussed how the pre-decisional collaboration process is working for 2009.
    • Valuation Issues Team—Matt Riordan said that there are three issues:  
      • A Comprehensive review of the Data Collection Manual, which they are going through line by line. It is a two-year project.
      • The team had a demonstration of an application for the ag assessing program on the Conservation Service database. It had neat measuring tools, but it is not a valuation tool. They are going to request at the Nov. RPS government meeting for it to be on the next version of RPS. If it could be linked to sales, it would be a valuable valuation tool.
      • How RPS displays a parcel of more than one acre compared to a parcel of less than one acre—frontage by longest depth. This causes confusion among taxpayers. No matter what size the parcel, RPS should display the acreage.  
    • Sales Processing Team—Tim Maher reported that the team met in March. ORPS needs to reach out to county clerks about improving the sale process. The staff met with Albany County and Schoharie County clerks and directors for feedback. They want things automated. The team has had conversations with Suffolk and Westchester. Some team members attended the county clerks' conference in Lake Placid. The clerks want the 5217 online. ORPS purchased Adobe Live Forms software that will help streamline the process. It produces a bar code, which will help reduce data entry.
    • Property Class Code—Dave Shanley said that there are three issues:

       

        1. He passed out a draft of the team charter. There was a discussion of how to code various farm uses, wind farms, etc., and also ownership/lease/rental use for farms, power plants, etc. “It's education at the assessor level,” Dave said. “He or she makes the judgment.” Sixty percent of land use in the state is agricultural. 

      Action Item: Economic Unit RPS. Robin Johnson said that she wants a way to value multiple farm parcels as one unit. Tim said the RPTAC Valuation Issues team will discuss this issue and then decide exactly what they want and need in the RPS system. Tim Maher will notify Steve Beals from the RPTAC Valuation Team of this assignment.

        1. Property classes that have been re-coded. Many are no longer active. They can stay if they're on the sheets, but also have a list of old and new codes for the assessors, for consistency in analysis. Hubner wants to be sure that sales are corrected also, not just parcels. Dave said there is no benefit to continuing to carry the old codes, but they are good on the roll.

      Action Item: Dave wants to know if RPTAC will agree to his team publicizing these changes for the next two months, explaining the reason for them, then changing them. RPTAC agreed. Dave said his team will send the message out to all assessors, CRMs, and county directors. The team will report the results and give the next steps at the next RPTAC meeting.

      1. Property Class Code requests—some mobile homes have been added on to or changed to the extent that they are not mobile homes any more. The team does not recommend a new code for this. A request was also received for a code for vacant canal waterfront property. A code for this already exists. It's waterfront. 
    • Public Education—Geoff Gloak reported that this sub-group was formed a year ago and has a charter to provide RPTAC with a final report, then to disband. They will have something for the group at the January 2009 meeting.   

 

  1.  
    • First Day Wrap-Up. Alan said that there are two action items.

Also, potential dates for getting the hotel for the next meeting are:

  • December 18 & 19, 2008
  • January 8 & 9, 2009
  • January 29 & 30, 2009

Adjournment at 4:30 pm.

Day 2 - Friday, September 19, 2008

Assessors: Timothy Sheares, Tom Frey, Rick Hubner, William Quick, Lawrence Quinn, Peggy Jenkins, Curtis Schoeberl
County Directors: David Hastings, David Jackson, John McCarey, Robin Johnson, Tim Murphy
ORPS: Lee Kyriacou, Vic Mallison, Jim O'Keeffe, Richard Harris, Dave Williams, Tim Maher, Dennis Jersey, Tom Bellard, Don Card

Facilitator: Alan Kresge
Recorder: Bonnie Brechbill

The meeting convened at 8:30 a.m.

Get Organized: The order of several agenda items was changed, due to a conference call Lee has to take. 

    1. Training Governance: Jim O'Keeffe 

Jim handed out “Assessment Administration Training Governance Group Charter,” and led the discussion on where this group is going to go in the future. The draft charter is out for comment to the Governance Team members. There have been no comments from members. There are three weeks left for responses. ORPS owns the training certification program. Authority is delegated to Lee and to his designee, Sally Cooney, who is responsible for the training functions. The group allows for at-large members. A meeting is scheduled for October and will be discussing the proposed charter. “Lee said that it's working fine, we're just doing clean-up.” He is concerned that the members may have a conflict of interest. Tom Frey said that state funds are not going to the organization. “We're paid by local municipalities. The state reimburses the municipalities.”
Jim O'Keeffe said that “the TCPC (Training Certification Program Committee) stuff has to be covered by this group. That's the primary function of this group.
Lee said not to focus on legal details, but to ask themselves if they are covering the right topics.

Action Item: Jim O'Keeffe said that he will send out revisions to the charter, with details on how the groups work together. He will have a report for the next RPTAC meeting.

Tom Frey said that it's a problem that ORPS appoints New York State Assessors' Association members. Lee said the group should talk about that and get back to him. The groups want to work together as collaboratively as possible. 

    1. Property Tax Cap/System Reform: Lee Kyriacou  
        1. The tax cap. “The Governor put the bill together and moved forward with this one,” Lee said.
        2. Circuit breaker
        3. Expense change. This mandates changes in bargaining.

      Lee said there is only one minor technical difference between the Governor's wording and theirs. The Governor's version was passed by the Senate. There is hesitation among the Democratic leadership of the Assembly, mostly in New York City. “We're waiting for the election. The Governor can call the Legislature back in. We'll see. This is the number one issue in the state, outside of New York City.”

      The lower-wealth school districts have a lower average growth in their levy over a 15-year data period. There is a lower growth of their tax rate; less than 2 percent per year. They receive state aid.
      The “big four” are in the 1- to 2-percent range. “That's pretty good,” Lee said. “The state is doing something.”
      The most expensive school districts are at 3.9 percent, and are stable or falling. “The spread is starting to narrow,” Lee said.

      Lee asked the group what they would think of a cycle proposal with a hard freeze in it.
      Rick Hubner said that in his 30 years in the business he has learned that the public's perspective is key. “They relish consistency, not being constantly in flux with the process. How often do you need to reanalyze the guesses of assessors and equalization rates? A person's ability to pay doesn't change that much year to year. The public would like if, after there's an increment, you would hold it awhile, rather than constantly tweaking.”

      Vic said that SUNY tuitions freeze for four or five years, then take a big jump, and there's a hue and cry. We have to weigh a freeze carefully.

      Tom Frey said that the difference is that with tuition, everyone pays the same. With assessments, some are a lot more than others.

      Robin Johnson said that we would have to change our motto from equity to tax stability.

      Lee said he wants it to be added to the Suozzi commission report that the cycle of reassessment should be one, two, or three years. It's flexible, with room to choose, he said.    

Lee said that there are three recommendations in the PTCR (Property Tax Commission Report). 

    1. Technology Initiatives: Tim Maher
      1. A central RPT database
      2. A statewide RPT system
      3. An automated 5217 process.
      1. Maintain the existing system.
      2. Change the engine to allow an unlimited number of users and an unlimited number of parcels.
      3. Move the existing system to the Web. Behind it is the same system. This would not be as expensive as #4, which is:
      4. Write a Web-based system from scratch. “The issue with this one is money,” Tim said. “Millions and millions of dollars.” 

Areas being looked in to now are:

Long term, there will be one centralized database that everyone will use, Tim said, and it will be more efficient and less costly. “That's the long-term vision,” he said. “Twenty years from now.”

Robin did not agree. “There's a huge staff at the state to take care of this,” she said.
Vic said that we all work for the taxpayer.
Robin said that when a lot of people are on the computer in version 4, the system kicks them out. “Any time the assessors can't work, that's not acceptable,” she said.
Tim said that different data bases will be built into the future system. You can do middle-class STaR, for example, and transmit the data. You won't have to spend time running a program and mailing it to them. The state received 700 files in July, he added. “That's work on each end. The data base will have all that info, you hit a button and we have it.”
Tom Frey said that he does not want people to be able to take information before it's ready.
Vic said that he wants the group's input on security measures that have to be built into the system. “It must be usable and flexible for you, and save money for the taxpayers.”
Tim said that his team is looking for counties to use this system, to see how it works. They are taking short-term steps on a long-term goal. There were meetings this summer to see what the system is doing, and what people want from the RPS system. Met with NYC and Nassau—“they are different; they're not a fit with us right now. They will keep doing what they're doing. And Buffalo has limitations on how many people can work on RPS at a time.”

Options of things to be done to RPS to make it work in every assessing unit are:

These options are being discussed internally, he said. A short-term goal is putting the 5217 on the web. The Adobe Live Form allows buyers and sellers to fill out the 5217 online and get a bar code, making it easier to share the information with all the people who need it. “We are working out details, and finding counties willing to work with us on this,” he said. 

    1. Exemption Report Requirements: Jim O'Keeffe. 

Handout is Local Government Exemption Impact Report Jim said that Chapter 258 requires, as part of the budget process, that every local government has to have available an exemption impact report. He passed out a proposed form for reporting this. It is an Excel spreadsheet. “This is going on the Website Monday at the latest, if you sign off on it here,” he said. “The text of the statute went on the Web last night or this morning. There's a memo describing the responsibility of the local government, and a Q & A.” Outreach through local government organizations to get this information out there. There are no penalty provisions if the reporting is not done. The law requires this information to be available to taxpayers. There will be an RPS patch by Oct. 1.
Vic said that we need to plan on how to communicate the specifics of how to use this.
Robin said that there is a huge problem in her county on how exemptions are calculated. “This is not going to give an accurate report if everything is equalized.”
Curt said that the intention of the law is to put a spotlight on exemptions. What is the dollar loss to exemptions? We need to show people that.
Dave Williams said we have to show what percentage of the tax base is lost to a particular exemption. We have to account for PILOTS, according to law.
Vic said that a lot of people do not understand their tax bill. Reporters can do the whole story.
Curt thinks we are not telling the whole story.
Dave Jackson asked what goes in the PILOT column on the handout.
O'Keeffe answered that the dollar amount of the PILOTS goes there. “Someone knows, because it goes into the budget,” he said. “Someone has to fill out the spreadsheet.”
Dave Williams said that there is an immediate need to comply with the law. “We need to work out details and definitions, and instructions for those who will fill out this form,” he added.
Rick Hubner said that the form is grossly flawed.
Dave Williams said that one line implies a taxing jurisdiction, and another line implies an assessing jurisdiction.
Hubner said that this is a non-working document.
Dave Williams said that we have to show the percentage of various exemptions reducing the tax base.
O'Keeffe said this is a county budgeting function, to show the impact of exemptions on all the cities and towns.
Dave Williams said he wants clarification on what RPS is doing, and to tighten up the form, and to communicate with local officials.
Hastings said that the patch will come out, and two weeks later there will be a patch for the patch. “We need someone from the real world having input before the patch comes out,” he said.
Tom Frey said the two forms are too similar-looking.
Vic asked if the law precludes us from adding another column.
O'Keeffe said that we've done the percentage approach, and that “it's a workload thing.”
Vic said there might be a time lag. “We heard you, Curt.”
Lee asked if we have customer input into the process of implementation.
Tim said no, because of the short time frame.
Lee suggests that whenever there's something like this, the expertise of this group or a subgroup should be drawn on. “Our odds of getting it right without the input of the customer are zero.”
Tim said, “We will get the report out as soon as we can, and we will expect feedback.”
Hubner volunteered to take a look at the form and provide immediate feedback.
Robin is concerned about equalizing exemptions that are never equalized.
Vic said it's a communications problem. “We have to set definitions.” He asked if those who volunteered could meet with Tim Maher and Dave Williams this afternoon, as they need input quickly. Curt Schoeberl, Rick Hubner, and John McCarey said yes. 

    1. Uniform Assessment Code: Jim O'Keeffe, David Jackson and Larry Quinn.  
        1. Procedural expectations (appropriate methodologies for property valuation and other aspects of assessment administration)
        2. Performance standards (appropriate goals in terms of statistics and other measures)
        3. Advisory standards (recommended certifications, training procedures, etc.)
        4. Corrective actions

        

The group got together this week to discuss this. O'Keeffe said that their audience is not just the assessment community, it's the rest of the world. Future rule-making by state board. Assessors need a reference to go to. If you look at the letter—that's how the system works. ORPS publishes the code. It's not binding. It could be adopted by the towns. A good assessor has a single, uniform approach. He wants to go to the board at their November meeting with something. He wants to get moving on this. It will not supersede or overturn the existing laws.
David Jackson suggested that ORPS, the assessors and the county directors each present their own proposal that RPTAC could then combine into one document.
The group agreed to four categories for inclusion in the code:

Action Item: Dave Jackson promised a final draft by the next RPTAC meeting. Each group should email their draft before the next meeting, and we'll take 90 minutes to two hours on it at the next meeting.  

    1. COD Standards: Dave Williams  
        1. A recommended method of categorizing assessing units according to attainable levels of uniformity.
        2. Appropriate COD standards for residential property and all property combined in each category; and
        3. Advice and recommendations relative to implementing the standards.

        

Handout: Independent Evaluation of New York Assessment Equity Standards: Scope of Work
There have been lots of complaints about the COD standards. Dave has asked Bob Gloudeman, a consultant with expertise in the assessment administration field, to look at the data. The contract has been set up with him, and the work will be done this fall. The expected work product will consist of: 

    1. Assessment Review Process: Jim O'Keeffe
      1. Uniform Assessment Codes
      2. MJW Consulting, Inc. Review
      3. Grant studies
      4. Assessment Change Notice
      5. Gloudeman's study
      6. Assessment Review Process
      7. Status Training Governance 

In 2007 we had a brainstorming session and a follow-up on what we could do to improve the process. There are large and small things that could be done right away. We can't change SCAR, but maybe there are other things that could be done.

Evaluation forms were passed out. The group discussed whether to continue the meetings as two half-days, or go to a one-day format. Tom Frey said that decision has to agenda-driven. There was some discussion on this. Policy-sharing reports could be done via email.

Vic said some questions and discussions could be handled via email.

Tim Murphy said that, because this was his first meeting, it would have been helpful to have the reports earlier, perhaps a week or more in advance of the meeting.

Alan said that we are supposed to get material to the members two weeks ahead, and that we will work harder on that.

Lee said there will be a debriefing at ORPS next week about this meeting. They will also set the preliminary agenda for the next meeting.

Alan said we will not make a decision today about the one- or two-day format, but will look at the agenda and make adjustments in time.

O'Keeffe suggests putting off changing the meeting times until nicer weather.

The next meeting will be January 8 – 9, 2009. Agenda items are:   

Adjournment was at 12:25 pm

Updated: