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REAL PROPERTY TAX ADMINISTRATION COMMITTEE

  

REAL PROPERTY TAX ADMINISTRATION COMMITTEE

Thursday -October 28, 2010 (1:00 pm - 4:25 pm)
Friday - October 29, 2010 (8:30am- 11:45 am)


Facilitator: Alan Kresge
Recorder: Bonnie Hellum

Day 1 - Thursday, October 28, 2010

****
Assessors: Cathy Conklin, Tom Frey, Sue Otis, Randy Holcomb, Christine Fusco, Mike Bernard

County Directors: John McCarey, Robin Johnson, Tim Murphy, Laura VanValkenburg, Paul Warneck.

ORPS: Vic Mallison, Tim Maher, Pat Holland, Paul Szwedo, Joe Gerberg, Geoff Gloak, Teresa Frank.

****

Get Organized: Alan Kresge

  • 1. Introduce new members. Alan Kresge introduced Mike Bernard, assess or from Town of Babylon; Paul Warneck, County Director in Jefferson County; Teresa Frank of the ORPTS Central Region office; and Joe Gerberg, who is filling in for Jim O'Keeffe, who recently retired.
  • 2. Review minutes from last meeting and finalize. The group made a correction, changing "that" to "than" in the Friday minutes, and finalized the minutes from the April 2010 meeting.
  • 3. Review agenda and make necessary changes. No changes.
  • 4. Action Items reviewed. Alan reviewed the items from August 12 & 13, 2010.
  • a. Budget Impact/ERI Impact Vic said that there is a 1.1 percent cut to the state aid program. Most budgets are already set. We were just informed of the cut shortly before sending our info out. There were a record number of reassessments last year. Sue Otis said that this translated to $1 per parcel, which is a substantial impact. ALL aid programs to school districts have been cut by 1.1 percent. Sue said she is always in the position of defending the schools' budgets. Joe said that STaR is no different than any other aid the schools receive.

ERI Impact: Vic said ORPTS lost 21 staff to the ERI. They are not replaceable; per the rules of ERI, these positions are eliminated. We are in the process of reshuffling staff to cover program needs. He does not expect fall-offs in levels of service. Another cut, however, would require us to stop doing something.

ORPTS is down to 275 people. If you remove the IT shop, it's 225. If you remove those who don't report to the ORPTS hierarchy, such as legal and Paul Miller's and Jim Dunne's areas, we're down to 210.

Teresa Frank said there are 26 staff in the Syracuse office, covering 15 counties.

Vic said we need RPA trainees, in thinking about succession planning. We're at the tipping point. We lost five or so people in the West. Raybrook lost 2, including a forester. Bob Aiken will help there as manager. Lost one person from Newburgh. There are only 4 people in the Hauppauge office.

Vic said we are at the point of diminishing returns. We have a good team of managers, and we're looking at this. "Tough decisions are coming, unless we are able to hire."

He added that we are now part of a revenue-generating department, and will thus be less impacted by layoffs. 420 people took the ERI at Tax and Finance, including our numbers. There should be no necessity for any layoffs in T & F.

Tom Frey asked for an updated org chart. He wants to know who is in charge of what. Vic said we will be updating the intranet and internet charts.

Action Item # 62. Provide ORPTS organizational chart to RPTAC group. (Geoff Gloak)

Tom asked how many people at Tax & Finance are doing work for ORPTS.

Vic said that depends on what we ask of them-we create a business plan and go before a review board, which decides if they will contribute IT resources to the project. We have access to many more IT resources, including bodies and the money to purchase software.

Tom asked if anyone at T&F has done anything on any aspect of RPS.

Alan said that we were upgraded to Lotus Notes 8.5, which T&F IT people installed on our machines.

Vic said that RPSV5 is one of the projects we want to put in front of the review board. It is distinct to what we do, although there is some shared data. It is extremely costly.

Laura VanValkenburg said she is tentative about this. "ORPTS is on a big bus, but they're sitting in the back." She thinks T&F does not understand how important ORPTS's priorities are. She thinks things are moving only one way. Vic responded that he has seen benefits internally. We have kept our own coders. T&F is responsible for hundreds of taxes. It's hard to get them to give up resources. "They give us what we need when we make a strong enough case."

Christine Fusco asked if V4 will continue to be maintained. Vic said yes.

John McCarey said that it is very important for some upper level T&F people to sit in on RPTAC meetings. "They are missing a golden opportunity to observe our workings, thoughts, concerns, etc."

Action Item # 63. Try to get a non-ORPTS T&F representative to attend a future RPTAC meeting. (Vic Mallison)

  • b. RPTL Sec. 324-process for disciplinary action against assessors.

Tom Frey said he has a great concern about this. He was in and out of the general session while Vic was speaking, and he missed some of the budget comments. He didn't know about 324 (notification and disclosure), and was upset that he was not notified. It did not affect the county director and ORPTS, but it affected him. It happened in Grouverneur, and that's how he found out. There was a hand-picked hearing officer for the assessor. The assessor was removed.. He was ready to go to the State Board, and ORPTS said no, because the law was changed.

Coventry had a town board election, the two who won arbitrarily fired two Board of Review people and asked the assessor to resign.

Tom said there are 2 things he is not happy with about ORPTS, concerning the 324 issue:

  • 1. Geoff Gloak's article in the Property Tax Monitor that stated, "special treatment is no longer necessary or appropriate." Tom said that special treatment is appropriate, because no other official is on the firing line like the assessor.
  • 2. He felt Joe's response, which was, "hire an attorney, read Geoff's article," was inappropriate. Tom said that ORPTS should have told the town board that what they were doing is illegal.

Joe Gerberg said that he, not Geoff Gloak, wrote that article. He said that he is by no means an expert in Civil Service law. A person in an appointed position for five years is entitled to a hearing before being disciplined. He could be summarily fired if in the position for fewer than five years.

Vic said that this topic slipped through the cracks during the merger process. As soon as ORPTS moved up here, he and Joe put a communication out to people that the law has changed. This removal of 324 was not ORPTS's idea. He did not name the person whose idea it was and who pushed it through. Joe had protested when this was brought up in the merger meetings. Law making can be an ugly process, and ORPTS was up against the wall.

 Tom said that the assessor's association is going to move forward legislatively to have this repealed.

Vic said that ORPTS is not going to write against this.

Robin Johnson asked how much the State Board is going to do. Now, they can only hear rate complaints, set railroad ceilings, etc. If 324 is reinstated, it would give the State Board the right to hold hearings again.

Vic said that he would make the argument that the local Civil Service commissioner has little knowledge of what assessors do, compared to the State Board.

Paul Warneck thinks it is a conflict of interest, and that the hearings should be moved completely out of the agency.

Joe said that there has been one 324 hearing in the past 8 to 10 years.

Tom Frey said that the State Board would listen to both sides.

There followed a discussion on the legalities, etc., of the 324 situation, Public Officers' Law, etc.

Vic is trying to start a conversation with the Office of Employee Relations. They are asking us the history of the 324, why it was done, etc.

John McCarey wants the 1970 Assessment Improvement act made available so that everyone can become educated on it.

Joe can provide this, along with a memo in support of the law.

Action Item # 64. Make 1970 Assessment Improvement Act available to RPTAC (Joe Gerberg)

  • c. RP-5217/TP-584 Project

Vic said he has had discussions with people in the department about issues that need to be addressed for consolidation of the forms, or for making them electronic. Internal teams are studying various categories, and they want the county directors, clerks and assessors to come sit at a roundtable to discuss this. He has met with the Tax IT head, who thinks this is doable. They have a platform that is similar, and they can make some modifications to it to sit our needs. The form can be made to pre-populate so that data will have to be entered only once, instead of four times.

  • d. Uniform Assessment Standards-Update on Outreach Effort

Sue Otis and Robin Johnson led the discussion.

Laura VanValkenburg read and email from the Greene County Assessors Association about the concern they have about the cost methodology. Section 1.4.3 is unclear on the "cost approach sets the ceiling for assessments." Maximum value that can be placed on improvement I reproduction cost less depreciation." Overall, they believe the document is good.

Robin asked who determines what will be changed in the UAS. The State Board adopted it, but they didn't write it. The group does not want the commissioner involved.

Action Item #65. Get UAS sub-group together to discuss modifications (rewrite of intro) and draft a policy on how UAS changes are adopted. (Tim Maher)

Tom asked if RPTAC had approved the document, Yes.

The group said that Robin did a good job on the draft that she sent out.

  • e. On-line Assessment Access-Update on Legal Requirement

Joe Gerberg talked about the budget legislation-the disclosure legislation was an overhaul of Section 5 -11, which provides greater public access to assessment  data by having most tentative rolls posted online within 10 days after filing.  It is satisfactory if the county maintains a web site. If the assessing unit has no website, the assessing unit is not subject to this rule. The information has to remain on the site at least until the final roll is posted. This begins January 1, 2011. Inventories are not required to be posted. Search capability is not required. Penalty-there is no policing authority. Vic said that the legislature is trying to avoid unfunded mandates.

Sue Otis asked Joe, if someone comes to ORPTS and requests a town data file, are you in a position to tell them no?

Joe said no, it is public data, even if they want it for commercial purposes. The info is given to them on a disk.

Paul Warneck said he charges $250 for this.

Joe thinks it's free from ORPTS.

Sue Otis asked if ORPTS is charging $100 for a town's file.

Joe said he would be surprised if that's true.

Paul asked why Sue Otis asked.

She said that the person who asked her this is having trouble with ORPTS selling the information before she has a chance to, because the buyer is duplicating and selling it at a profit.

Paul said he routinely sells the information.

Christine Fusco said that someone called around in Erie County for a list of enhanced STaR names, trying to target seniors. They refused to put the request in writing, so they did not get the information.

Some thought there is a difference if the information is used for commercial or fund-raising purposes.

Action Item #66 Restrictions on FOIL-release of names and addresses for commercial purposes and fund raising. (Joe Gerberg)

Mike Bernard read from an ORPTS brochure dated October 2010 about the STaR exemption, and the list included apartment houses. The group agreed that "apartment houses" must be deleted from the list.

Action Item #67 Fix STaR pamphlet (apartments). (Geoff Gloak)

Day 2 - Friday, October 29, 2010

Facilitator: Alan Kresge
Recorder: Bonnie Hellum

****
Assessors: Cathy Conklin, Tom Frey, Sue Otis, Randy Holcomb, Christine Fusco, Mike Bernard.

County Directors: Robin Johnson, Tim Murphy, Laura Van Valkenburg, Paul Warneck

ORPTS: Vic Mallison, Joe Gerberg, Tim Maher, Pat Holland, Paul Szwedo, Geoff Gloak.

Get Organized: Review agenda and make necessary changes. At the request of Greg Kidd and Bill Godell, Alan added time to topic f. for presentation about a glitch in V4.

f. V5 Update/Marshall Swift; V4 Glitch.

Greg Kidd and Bill Godell passed out three handouts; RPSV5 Project Status, Summary of the Issue (V4 Glitch), and MS/B Project Update, October, 2010.

Greg said that resources and money are the big issues with V5 now. There are also succession issues now-there are not as many experienced eyes as there were a few years ago. Management must understand that this is a long-term project, probably 4 or 5 more years. Bill has 6 to 7 staff dedicated to RPS work.

ORPTS IT support is intact, even though Bill reports to a T&F boss.

The group talked about upgrades to Windows 7; most of the users (assessors, etc.) have XP. There is a higher degree of security in Windows 7.

NPS is non-personnel services, such as hardware and software.

Greg said they will let everyone know what is happening with V5, or an alternative to V5, after they get everything through the DTF Project Review Boards.

Greg and Bill met with RPS Governance in July; they have been included all along, and will review the comprehensive document about this project before it goes to DTF.

Tom Frey wondered if someone from T&F could be included on the Governance team.

Sue Otis said that it's a shame we're in the position of having to "sell" this to someone who doesn't have a clue.

Vic said that we are T&F, and that it's his job to "sell" what we need for our business to the other leadership. He said that it may sound like we're still outsiders within the department, but T&F has done their best to make us feel like part of them. Their only concern with V5 is the expense and the amount of work that has to go into it.

Whether or not what you do raises revenue for the state is the lens through which T&F looks at things.

Action Item #68. RPS Governance-add non-ORPTS T&F member (Tim Maher)

Sue Otis said that they still feel like orphans and want Vic to understand that.

Vic said he does understand that. He added that he meets with the Commissioner the same as the heads of all the other Tax divisions do. He said that Commissioner Woodward gets it. Will the next Commissioner?

He thinks we will get the same level of resources as the other tax divisions that don't raise revenue for the state. Our ERI allocation was the same, proportionally, as the other divisions. We are part of the T&F team, and they are professionals. He will try to get the RPTAC group together with Commissioner Woodward.

Tom Frey said that we used to sit at this table and talk with the people who made the decisions. Now Vic reports to higher-ups.

Vic said Commissioner Woodward asks him every week what's going on with the assessors, county directors, etc. When the equalization process was explained to them, they asked cogent questions. They are starting to understand it. He has the same concerns as RPTAC does, but he has a higher level of access, and knows that we are being heard.

Greg said that V5 will be competing with other projects, but he thinks we'll do OK.

Alternatives to V5 might reduce cost for both the state and local entities.

Greg said that Kathy Glannon prepared the Marshall and Swift hand-out but could not be here today. It is a $1 million project, and she is coming to the end of it. She will reach out to the RPTAC group after Jan. 1.

Greg said that Marshall and Swift owed us a lot of money.  We want to wrap this up. We are working with fiscal people on this. Also, we want a long-term maintenance contract, and we want new numbers every year, not trended values. We want to protect our investment in the project. We are discussing all this with Marshall and Swift.

Greg discussed the glitch in V4 that recently turned up. He will be sending out a communication about it this afternoon, but he wants this group to be aware of the problem upfront. Last Friday, in the Town of Smithtown, there was a problem with a few parcels. His staff looked at it. Tuesday, he got involved. It is not just a data issue. It was tracked back to December 2009, involving conservation easements. The effect is that we have a problem with exemption amounts when there is a certain combination of exemptions. Staff members have written the patch and are testing it.  It will be all manual corrections. Assessors should stop making changes until the patch arrives. He said that not all the errors will be caught, but most of them will be.

Concerns were voiced about making the corrections-is this considered a clerical error? It doesn't matter whose error it was.

Joe said these will have to be changed on next year's roll.

Much discussion followed about the impact this will have on the final roll.

g. STaR Program Update

Pat Holland said the sub-committee met Oct. 19 and came up with lots of questions, and not many answers. They have created a file in Westchester to match 2009 income with every file. They are trying to get a feel for how many of the 2.9 million people we won't be able to determine income for. Between January and March, she will give the assessors a list of who does and doesn't qualify for the STaR exemption, and of those not able to be determined.

The ideal is to match Social Security numbers for every parcel with personal income.

There are still a lot of unknowns.  There's a timing issue, and she's trying to get the answers out there.

There followed discussion about handling new applications, the set-up of the application form, and how to handle exemptions if the income changes.

The language in Pat's handout will be redrafted.

Action Item #69 Redraft application for STaR and distribute to RPTAC (Pat Holland)

The new draft will be emailed to RPTAC for comment . This will be done and put online before January 1.

Long discussion about the reporting of income, etc.

Pat asked if the law states that we can make people reapply after denial.

Joe said that the statute is not clear, but it can be part of the procedures. This will be brought back to the team at Tax.

Vic said they are still working on the "appeal of denial" issue internally. It would help us to build a better database.

Action Item #70  STaR income verification-"Can we make them reapply?" question back to Tax. (Joe Gerberg and Vic Mallison)

Action Item #71  Get STaR committee back together. (Peg Sherman) (Vic Mallison)

  • i. Sub-Group Activity Updates
  • 1. Valuation Issues Sub-group. Farm Valuation. Steve Beals reported that the team is still working on the Commercial section of the Volume 6 rewrite. They are also researching what farm databases are out there. Colleen Adamec couldn't find much. All the people she interviewed said they use assessment community data for ag assessment info. The Web Soil Survey gives soil types throughout the country, but there is no overlay for tax maps. If that application could be developed, it would be useful. She also found verified sales data bases. Chester VanGaasbeek will be taking over for Steve. The group thanked Steve for his service.
  • 2. Sales Processing Sub-group

Pat Holland reported that the bar code is on the form but it is not yet functional.

  • 3. Property Class Code Sub-group. No report. Beth Cervenack will replace Dave Shanley on this team.
  • 4. Public Education Sub-group

Tim Murphy will be making county director committee assignments. Vic thought it would be good for a non-ORPTS person to lead this group. Mary Ilacqua is supposed to set up a meeting so the group can decide on a leader.

Action Item #72. Need to make committee assignment to Public Education sub-group for ORPTS and County Directors and assign new leader. (Tim Murphy, Vic Mallison)

Action Item #73. Mary Ilacqua will schedule a meeting of the Public Education sub-group. (Tim Maher)

  • 5. Equalization Project Team Pat Holland said this team met in September. They are still discussing RAR and other issues. So far, they see no reason to change procedures. Their next meeting is in Dec., when they will discuss how the COD is figured.

h. Update on New State Aid Program. Tim Maher reported that the CRMs have been talking to the county directors and assessors about the new program. The Commissioner has signed the application for 2010 aid, due 12/6. Most munis have a cyclical plan, every 3 - 4 years. There is $6.9 million in aid this year.

 Robin Johnson asked about the references to an audit. What will these involve? Tim said that audits are an option, but no decisions have been made about what this means. ORPTS will communicate to them if an audit is going to be implemented. The Emergency Rules, which provide for an audit, expire in 90 days. There will be a formal comment period, then the Emergency Rules can be adopted as final.

Robin asked about doing data collection every six years. Tim said he is not expecting people to go out and measure 2 sides of every building to get aid.

The towns have to make the determination when to do a reassessment. Tim said this topic needs a sub-group meeting soon.

Action Item  # 74 State Aid Audits-schedule a meeting to discuss $5 for reappraisal aid. (Tim Maher/Tim Murphy/ Chris Fusco)

Sue Otis asked who is handling ag since Mark Twentyman is gone.

Frank Dirolf said that he will be administering the ag program. He has met with Ag & Markets, with Farm Bureau, and has had in-house meetings. He has put together a plan, which is open to revision, to get values delivered in a timely fashion. It's a spreadsheet function, defined by law. He said he is bringing in some younger folks. Zach Kaiser will be doing some of the calculations. Bob Wright was in the succession plan for the Ag program for two years. Phone calls and inquiries should go to Frank. He chases down answers. He has had 15 inquiries from assessors and property owners in the last month. Bob Mark is a wonderful resource. He and Wright and Kaiser are also involved with the Ag Valuation course.

Ag values need to be out in mid-January.

Tom Frey asked if ORPTS could share the Ag Valuation course info with the IAO so they could teach the course.

Action Item #75 Will ORPTS share the Basic Ag course with IAO so they can teach it? (Vic Mallison)

Randy Holcomb asked if a muni tries for annual reassessment and fails, does it have until the end of the year to revise its plan? For 2011, they get $0. Can they revise the plan for 2012? What type of plan can they start with, and request $2 per parcel?

Tim Maher said he will have to get back to him on that.

Action Item #76 When can you reapply for State Aid (can you change your plan?) (Paul Szwedo/Phil Hembdt)

Next meeting: Wednesday, February 9 and Thursday, February 10, 2011, in Malta Town Hall.

Topics for next time:

Budget Update

Legislative Update

Sub-group Updates

Uniform Assessment Standards

STAR

Updated: