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Department of Taxation and Finance

REAL PROPERTY TAX ADMINISTRATION

MINUTES
Thursday –January 8, 2009 (1:00pm – 5:00pm)
Friday - January 9, 2009 (8:30am- 12:40pm)

Facilitator: Alan Kresge
Recorder: Bonnie Brechbill

Day 1 - Thursday, January 8, 2009
Assessors: Cathy Conklin, Timothy Sheares, Tom Frey, Peggy Jenkins, Curtis Schoeberl, Christine Fusco
County Directors: David Hastings, David Jackson, John McCarey, Robin Johnson, Tim Murphy, Laura VanValkenburg, Kathy Myers
ORPS: Lee Kyriacou, Vic Mallison, Jim O'Keeffe, Richard Harris, Dave Williams, Tim Maher, Tom Bellard

Alan Kresge introduced a new member, Laura VanValkenburg, who is an assessor in Albany County and County Director in Greene County.

Alan asked for comments to the minutes of the last meeting; there were no comments, and the minutes were accepted as final. Geoff Gloak does a short format of the minutes for the Tax Monitor; do we need both those and the more extensive minutes that the recorder does? Geoff said he does his summary for the external community.
Tom Frey said he likes the more detailed minutes for the RP community, and that Geoff's are fine for the external community.
Curt Schoeberl said the summary is Geoff's opinion of the discussion. He suggested that Geoff email them to everyone in RPTAC within a week for comments. The newsletter isn't published until the end of the month.

Alan reviewed the agenda. Because of the absence of Rick Hubner, Tim Maher will give a five-minute update in place of item j., RPS Governance—Fee Structure. 

    1. Budget Update—STAR, T&F Hosting, Training Reimbursement 

“It's bad,” Vic Mallison said. “The state is facing a $13.7 billion hole next year. We hope that hole will close by $1.7 billion this fiscal year.” ORPS had a $66 million appropriation last year; proposed for this year is $46 million. ORPS's personnel services budget will drop from $26.9 million to $24.1 million. Vic said he hopes most of that will come about through attrition. Two of our units, Human Resources and Fiscal, will be hosted by Tax and Finance. Twelve employees will be impacted by that, if the budget is enacted as proposed, Vic said.
The $20 million non-personnel budget (supplies, fringe benefits, etc.) will go down to $8 million. Aid categories such as RPTATIP (Real property Tax Administration Technology Improvement Program), and SIPTAC for county coordination, will dry up. STAR administrative aid to municipalities will be zeroed out. It was $3.2 million last year. Counties must push their contractors to get things done before March 31. “We must cut, and we don't want the first-line cuts to be handed down to the municipalities,” Vic said. Laura VanValkenburg asked Vic not to take away the maintenance aid for rebate checks.
Cathy Conklin added that this is a terribly expensive program to administer at the state level. “The local governments just absorb it. We want the money put to good use. It's a flawed program,” she said.
Vic said that this is a shared sacrifice. “We're losing $3 million in aid, and we're cutting on staffing and in many areas. We've dropped $500,000 on heat and lighting. We want to keep people employed and produce our product.”
Tom Frey asked about people getting laid off.
Vic said those people will not be moved to Tax and Finance, and that their seniority and bumping rights “won't kick in until the paperwork starts to flow.” He said that he and Lee are finding opportunities for these people. He added that there will not be cuts in the business units.
Lee said that they are doing what seems to make a lot of sense.
Dave Williams said that we still need attrition in some of the units that provide services.
Vic said that ORPS has 350 people statewide. The projection is that that number will go to around 320 with attrition and not refilling those positions. "We will be stressed internally," he said.
Dave Jackson asked if it will be “business as usual” for training.
Vic said no. The Department of Budget says that any reimbursement for expenditures over $500 has to be approved by them. He said Sally Cooney is working with the DOB, bringing each training opportunity to them for approval. The Association of Towns conference in New York City, for town officials, is not approvable for this year.
Dave Jackson asked, "What about in the future?"
Vic promised to communicate with the assessors so they can make their plans.
Lee said that decisions on whether or not to fund training are based on cost/credit. "They're looking for bang for the buck," he said.
Tom Frey said there will be an educational program for AOT.
John McCarey asked about the 5217s.
Vic said that it's not good. ORPS had been getting money from the general fund for several years because there was not enough coming in from the 5217s.
Lee said that we were specially funded, but we had a deficit. We're moving a piece of that to the general fund. "The good part is that the 5217 shortfall will stop affecting us," he said.
Lee added that he has done core mission budgeting. "What are the actual programs for the agency? Certain areas are support, rather than program. We must get the support numbers down. That $7.1 million might drop, because we're managing support costs down. It's my job to manage it down. There is lots of empty space in the building, and we're managing it down." Our costs are public information. This redounds to the benefit of entities that raise funds from property tax. Sixty percent is schools.
Tom Frey asked if we have to pay Tax and Finance for hosting our Fiscal and HR departments.
Vic said no. "We may be moving into a Tax and Finance building; the cost would be paying for our space."
Lee said that we are retaining a couple of people to be our representatives in that system. 

    1. Grant Program Status

      Dave Williams said that a lot has happened since September. Fifty-one counties have applied for assessment study grants. Twenty-three have been completed and presented to county legislative bodies. Eleven have meetings scheduled, and others are in various stages of completion. Twelve have already been approved for their second payment. None so far have failed to meet the minimum requirements.
      In next year's budget, no money is allocated for this program, so we encourage the counties to get everything in to us so we can get the checks out in this fiscal year.
      We want to build up county offices to help provide services to local assessors.
      Curt said that the studies were sent to the regional offices for comment. “On some of them, one regional office said it's fine, and another had four pages of comments.”
      Dave Williams disagreed, saying the feedback was fairly consistent. “We reviewed the primary contractors as a group, the contractors made improvements and adjusted their models where they were different from those in other regions.
      Curt said that the perception is that ORPS is getting heavy-handed and is steering this.
      Dave Williams said that that is not ORPS's role. “As long as the counties are happy with the product, good. If they're not, they should push back.”
      Curt said that at a presentation in Ulster County, no one understood the process except the assessors. The legislators have not commented.
      Lee said that we have been clear about roles, and that ORPS does not steer on outcomes. “We point out inconsistencies,” he said.
      Laura said that “from the get-go, the legislature was hounded by the state to get these grants. The situation was tossed back and forth, there was a cash prize, take it, it sounded easy. It would have been better if the state had sent representatives to explain the requirements. We started the study, then we felt that the rules changed mid-game. We have to include this and that in the report. I equate this with No Child Left Behind. We're teaching to the test, not what the report should really show.”
      She added that the state needed the information. Her county wanted a certain priority. The checks and balances to see if a county gets the second payment were not clearly defined at the beginning. Her county finished the study, but she is not sure that any legislator has read it. There have been no comments or feedback.
      Lee said he got on board in October, and the grant was in place then, with six counties on board. He said that his view is that he has read and listened carefully, and his recommendation was county-run assessing, or coordinating a shared-service model. “Legislators do not get this subject,” he said. “Because it is a difficult subject for legislators, I made it a point to reach out to elected officials across the state.” He added that “county-run (functions) is not what we're talking about. The agency's view is to see that every parcel in a county is treated the same. It doesn't matter if it's county-run or municipality-run. We have to educate the decision-makers. We implement the study grants exactly as they are written.”
      Tom Frey asked when the studies will go out on the website.
      Dave Williams said that two things have to happen before they are put out: 1. We have to have permission from the contractor, and 2. when it's OK with the county.
      Tom said that once a check is written, the study should be available to others.
      Dave said that the contractors are concerned about that, because they are in competitive situations in other counties.
      Tom asked about the counties that are not going to complete their studies, “Does the state get the money back?”
      Dave said that we will cross that bridge when we get there.
      Lee said that it is premature to have this conversation.  

    2. Legislative Update 

Paul Miller said that Democratic control of the Senate is a done deal. He handed out an unofficial list of new members of the New York State Legislature for the 2009/10 session. “There will be a lot of churning as leadership positions are nailed down in both the Senate and the Assembly,” he said.
Joe Gerberg handed out “RPT-Related Proposals in the 2009-10 Executive Budget.” “These are key points in the budget bills,” he said. “The most important is to repeal the STAR rebate program. The second most important is leaving the STAR exemption intact, except that its floor is down to 18 percent, allowing for significant reductions.” He said that there is also a freeze on what the state pays on taxable state land, even if the value of the property has gone up. In effect, it treats the state's payments as a PILOT.
On June 1, the 5217 will be $125 for residential and farm property, and $250 for other property. 

    1. Report out on Exemption Report Implementation 

Tim Maher said that municipalities have to attach exemption reports. We put out the forms, etc. We modified RPS V4 to allow for reports to be produced, released a patch last October, and another patch in December, to allow it to produce information for school districts.
Dave Hastings said that in his county, two nuclear power plants and one college are grossly under assessed. The exemption reports are useless to them. The reported impact is erroneous.

Action Item #10 Set dates for next meeting
Action Item #11 Grants study posted on internet. (Lee) 

    1. MJW Consulting, Inc. Review

      Jim O'Keeffe said that at the last meeting there were requests for information on MJW Consulting. Assemblyman Molinaro had requested that ORPS review some MJW re-val activity in his district. ORPS's report was distributed. “We can't tell local government who to hire and who not to hire. It's up to the municipalities to check the contractor's background, etc.,” Jim said. “We believe the contracts were close to the ORPS standard. The municipalities were paying the contractors to do the work.” ORPS has a list of contractors. ORPS will review the current list and consider changes, Jim said. The agency is taking no action, based on the report.

      Action Item #12 Post the RFP on the website to contact ORPS/County Director about the re-val process. (Dave Williams)

      Jim said that ORPS maintains a list of contractors as a service. ORPS does not recommend, license, endorse, etc. Contractors call us to be put on the list.

      Vic said that the agency should look into this, to see how other states do it.

      Dave Hastings thinks that this would be too time-consuming. The state should not be in this business. Local entities need to be checking these people out, he said.

      Action Item #13 Have an internal discussion at ORPS regarding contractor list. (Vic)  

    2. Sub-Group Activity Updates

      Eq Project Team and Sales Processing Team—Tim Maher handed out “RPTAC Equalization Project Team.” He reported that the team will meet next week to review the eight options listed on the handout.
      Tim also reported that the IBM consultants came in and pitched their automated sales process. They will be coming again soon.
      Tom Frey said that he is concerned that the one-part forms will be a problem with the assessors, and that the team should have a chance to discuss that.
      Tim said that they are still testing the Adobe software.

      Action Item #16 The sales processing team will schedule a meeting to discuss reaching out to other local officials to get input.

      Valuation Issues Team—Steve Beals handed out “Valuation Issues Team Report.” Some new members joined the team and they will be meeting again next week. The new assessors will be there. The team tried to find funding for the Agricultural Valuation GIS application—RPS V5 Enhancement—and couldn't. They tried to incorporate this into RPS, but there were too many changes required to get into V4. It will be in V5. The presentation to the RPS Governance Committee will be in the spring. Also, the team is proceeding on schedule with the revisions to the Assessors Manual Volume #6. They have been working on it for about a year. They meet eight times a year in five-hour sessions and go through it page by page, Steve said. Estimated completion date is summer 2010. Their most recent action item concerned Economic Units. RPTAC had asked them to consider whether RPS should be modified to handle economic units better. The team decided that this does not warrant the work it would take. Curt disagreed with this, saying that agriculture is the largest land use in the state.

      Action Item #14 The committee will share information about economic units with RPTAC members. (David Hastings)

      Property Class Code—Dave Shanley reported that there were a lot of property class code changes on the 2007 roll, 31,000 of them by RPS users. We need to take the inactive codes and recode them to active, he said, but he is concerned about doing this unilaterally. Some assessors may have concerns. There was a notice about this in the Tax Monitor that went out Dec. 29. There have been no responses yet; he will wait 2 to 3 weeks for responses, considering the newsletter came out over the holidays. He also said that RPS is preparing a patch for 2009 release listing parcel IDs, invalid codes, and new valid codes. We will explain the situation to the CRMs, who will tell the assessors to examine their rolls. These changes were approved in 2001 and 2002.

      Action Item #15 Communicate through the CRMs and through the List Serve about the property Class Codes. (Dave Shanley)

      Public Education Sub-group—Geoff Gloak handed out “Public Education and the Property Tax,” a draft of the committee's final report.
      Tom Frey congratulated Geoff and his team, saying he has used the Power Point presentation the committee prepared, and that it has good information.
      Geoff suggests that everyone review this draft and if there are no changes recommended, then the committee can disband.
      Dave Williams asked who will move these things along if the committee goes away.
      Dave Hastings thinks the committee should work on getting this implemented. He suggests they present it at the assessors' and county directors' conference. “There needs to be some marketing of this,” he said.

      Action Item #17 The Public Education sub-group will work on an implementation plan and report out at the next RPTAC meeting. (Geoff Gloak)     

    3. Training Governance—Revisions to Charter. Jim O'Keeffe reported that this committee met, per Action Item #7, and did not agree. They will meet again in March.

       

    4. Publication of Assessment Equity Statistics—reassessment vs. non-reassessment. Kathleen Meyers and David Jackson. In Jim Dunne's absence, Dave Williams said that “we can't quite do the same things. We can't take the sales before reassessment. The statistics are misleading. We can't do exactly the same things as non-reassessments.”
      Dave Jackson said that the same things should be published for reassessments and non-reassessments, but how you get there may not be the same.
      Lee suggested a group be established to investigate this and come back and report to RPTAC. He said he does not fully understand the process.

      Action Item #18 The Equalization Subcommittee will address the assessment equity statistics, reassessment vs. non-reassessment.  

    5. Bob Gloudeman's Study—COD Standards. In the absence of Jim Dunne, Dave Williams took this topic. He said that Bob Gloudeman is working with data that ORPS provided to him. “He is working with difficult points now, to arrive at an appropriate COD for a municipality. We asked him to go back and do further work. He is letting the data direct him to appropriate standards. This is to clarify what is appropriate for CODs for communities in this state. He expects to have a product within the next month or so.

       

    6. RPS Governance—Fee Structure. In the absence of Rick Hubner, Tim Maher took this topic. Tim said that ORPS tried to allocate every dollar they spent to a category. We spent $7.1 million on RPS. Our charter says that local entities pay one-third of the cost, and the state pays two-thirds. “We are collecting $1.1 million from local governments,” Tim said. “That's more like one-seventh than one-third.” The group discussed what appropriate fees should be. Tim said that there will be a meeting at ORPS on Tuesday to try to come to a consensus about the fees for 2010, and also what to do with the fees long-term. He said that he is optimistic that an agreement will be reached.

      Lee said that ORPS is exploring ways to lower costs.

      WHO? said to be sure that the fees are in place before town boards do their budgets.

      Lee said that we are partners producing a joint product, and that we all get tremendous benefit from it.

      First Day Wrap-Up. Alan reminded the group that we would be working on the uniform Assessment Code on Friday, and to come prepared to discuss it. Handouts for Friday's meeting were offered to the group.

      Adjournment at 5:30 pm.

      Day 2 - Friday, January 9, 2009

      Assessors: Cathy Conklin, Timothy Sheares, Peggy Jenkins, Curtis Schoeberl, Christine Fusco
      County Directors: David Hastings, David Jackson, John McCarey, Robin Johnson, Tim Murphy, Laura VanValkenburg
      ORPS: Lee Kyriacou, Vic Mallison, Jim O'Keeffe, Richard Harris, Dave Williams, Tim Maher, Tom Bellard

      Facilitator: Alan Kresge
      Recorder: Bonnie Brechbill

      Get Organized
      Tentative dates for next two RPTAC meetings:
      March 26 and 27
      June 4 and  5 

    7. Uniform Assessment Code—Groups share work done to date and consolidate ideas into working document.  

Alan Kresge said that the goal is to try to combine some information.
Dave Williams asked what we are trying to accomplish with this.
Dave Jackson said that ORPS's position on this has changed over time. It should be on the web site. This is to show what ideal assessment practices are. This is not mandated; it is to get everyone on the same page.
Curt said that in the legislature things could change quickly, because of various commissions.
Dave Jackson said that the document should be done with the input of the assessors and directors. “This is the ideal standards, the best practices. We're dealing with day-to-day things.”
Richard Harris said that ORPS has the same position.
Cathy Conklin said she has a concern from the assessors' point of view, that legislation may change things. The “Gold Standard” could become law. She wants to establish voluntary recommendations, because they may suddenly become concrete, and these are not necessarily achievable by local governments.
Dave Jackson said we need something we agree on so that we're ahead of the curve. A “best practices” document is reasonable, he said. “It must be a bottom-up solution. Let the taxpayers dictate what they want to see,” he added.
David Hastings said that we need a guide to point legislators to as they come up with new ideas.
Curt said that the “one size fits all” attitude in New York has always been problematic. “We're trying to run before we can walk. We need to develop a minimum standard, a ‘bronze' standard. Legislators don't understand any of it, and they will seize something and make it law, and it would be a catastrophe. Minimum standards make more sense.”
Vic said the law is not perfect. “They will seize on something. Better to seize on a document that we've had something to do with.”
David Jackson said that he's OK with whatever the group can agree to that's reasonable.
Timothy Sheares said we can develop something generic, then look at catering to specific jurisdictions. We can continue with the product.
David Jackson said this should be a “living document.”
The group agreed to delete the last sentence under Intent & Scope.
Jim O'Keeffe said that ORPS agrees with the intent and scope of the document.
Under Exemption Administration, the group agreed to change 90 days to 60 days.
There followed a lengthy discussion about various changes in the wording of the Uniform Assessment Code.
Dave Jackson and Robin Johnson will prepare a draft document, incorporating the changes made today. They will submit it to RPTAC.
Alan said that this whole topic is an action item

Action Item #19 Annual Assessments Cycle Tim Shearers.

Action Item #20 USPAP Standards revisit. David Jackson will mail info to the group.

Dave Jackson suggests that between him, Robin, Bonnie and Alan, we will make these revisions to the code. Others should email their comments about the rest of the document to him before the March meeting.

Action Item #21 Bonnie, Alan, Robin and Dave J. will get a draft of the uniform Assessment Code out to the group.

David Hastings said that 100 percent valuation is critical. “This must be addressed,” he said. “It's the only way to have transparency.” 

    1. Property Tax Cap/System Reform 

Lee reported that the Property Tax Relief Commission's report came out December 1. The state budget came out right after that, then the state of the state address. The recommendation on the tax cap in the commission's preliminary report in June was left untouched. A bill will be introduced. The circuit breaker was left to the legislature to figure out how to work it. The commission worked on the expense side extensively, he said. There were 32 recommendations affecting expenses, including the Tier 5 pension process and mandated health care contributions. The commission took a careful look at special ed. Lee is hopeful about these. The governor is on board, he added. 

    1. Assessment Review Process
      • Uniform Assessment Code-continue with it
      • Public Education—Report next steps
      • Assessment Equity Statistics
      • Training Governance
      • Budget
      • Legislative Updates
      • COD discussion

      Jim O'Keeffe

      Robin Johnson said that weird things happened with SCAR this year. She said that the court told her they wanted to do the training of SCAR officers and leave ORPS out of it.

      Jim said this is true. “They no longer want our assistance.”

      Robin said that one of the hearing officers made a comment to the property owner that he will only look at the house and one acre, and there was a seven-acre plot. Robin said she talked to the circuit clerk, “because you can't call the hearing officer. We had to go through HK Lo. Is there nothing we can do about that?” Jim said he has occasional contact with OCA. One county had a large number of complaints, the judge wanted a training session to expedite the process, ORPS presented the information and the judge was not happy, and another training session was scheduled without ORPS's input.

      It's OCA's program; that was clear from the beginning, Jim said. “Where is someone clearly failing to follow the law? It's always anecdotal that the system doesn't work. We need hard evidence.”

      Robin said that the hearing people must be trained right, and that ORPS has to be involved.

      Christine Fusco said that they have hard evidence, which they have been collecting for years. She asked if this should be funneled through Jim.

      Jim said yes.

      Christine said that we need to collect the horror stories and get them to someone who will listen.

      Jim said to bring clear examples of abuse to OCA's attention. They can decline to hire these people if they are presented with a string of similar problems.

      Cathy Conklin said that the hearing officer can make whatever decision, and the county can't take it to court. “We need the ability to contest illegal decisions,” she said.

Meeting Wrap up

Agenda Items for next meeting  

The minutes will be sent out to the RPTAC membership within two weeks.

Adjournment at 12:45 pm

Updated: