1. Review minutes from last meeting and finalize: Philly asked for comments and questions on minutes from the last meeting. There were none.
2. Review Action Items
3. Review agenda and make necessary changes-Tim Murphy asked to have the training discussion today instead of tomorrow, because he will not be here tomorrow. Susan Savage said we would check and see if Paul Szwedo is available. Tim Maher later said that Paul can come over at 3:00, so the training discussion will be held then. We adjusted the agenda to reflect that, and moved Tim Maher's topics to tomorrow.
4. Date/Location: This has been discussed previously, about going to Syracuse, or somewhere south of here. Must take budget issues into consideration. No overnights. We could have a one-day meeting, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. We'll talk about it tomorrow.
a. a. Budget and Staffing Update: Susan Savage said she sees staffing remaining the same for right now. We're waiting for the CSEA contract vote. She hopes our staffing will remain the same, or it will be harder to get the work done. We have a small number of CSEA employees, so layoffs there would have a minimal affect on ORPTS. She does not anticipate changes, but it won't be good for anyone if the vote doesn't go well. The governor has been clear on what he wants to have happen.
Tim Murphy asked if any more attorneys will be added. Susan said no; no agencies will be adding people, not even filling vacancies. We have 3 attorneys, 206 staff.
b. b. Sales Process Team-Update on 5217 Pilot Projects. Colleen Benson said that the initiatives are underway. The four-part form is being phased out. The new form will be a one-part, online, bar-coded form. Onondaga and Tompkins counties have launched pilot programs. They have county systems, and the bar codes have been incorporated into the county clerks' systems. ORPTS is working with vendors and IT staff to implement this, and have provided them with hand-held scanners. Colleen said that they are off and running.
Essex, Orange and Cortland counties will be launched this month. They are salesnet counties. Sales will be scanned, and the app will populate everything. We install and provide the bar-code reader.
Four users need the data, and people are wondering how they will get their data. The deeds and the 5217s will be imaged and sent to separate files, then passed to assessors, ORPTS, etc.
We already get data, not paper, from New York City and Westchester. Scanned images are considered originals, and will be retained.
Colleen has a list of eight counties that are interested in this.
Tim Murphy asked if any changes have been made to the form. Colleen said that it captures a little more buyer information, but otherwise it's the same.
The electronic 5217 is a pdf form, and is not connected to an online database.
Colleen said we cannot lock people out of printing the form even if it is not completely filled out. There are edits behind it.
ORPTS wants to move in the direction of paperless, but recognizes that this may not be realistic. It's a step-by-step process. There may be assessor resistance, Teresa Frank said.
Paul Warneck asked how to do away with the paper 5217. Joe Gerberg said that we are not at that point yet.
c. c. Legislative Update.
1. Information sharing. Paul Miller gave out two hand outs, #1--"Annual Legislative Session data," and #2--"2011 RPT Related Bills of Interest."
#1 How does this session compare to the previous session? There was more compression this year; they were in session only for 65 days this year. (Some previous years went into August.) But a lot happened. The majority of what happens takes place late in the session.
#2 not a lot of broad application. Two ag exemptions. #47 creates a new entity, the Land Bank, which provides for the administration of certain vacant, abandoned and tax delinquent properties. This concept was pioneered in Michigan. In situations with an absentee landlord or foreclosure, the municipality can't do anything with the property. This legislation lets them create a not-for-profit corporation to take title and rehab or demolish the property. It has broader power than local government. There's a limit of 10 Land Banks that can exist at any one time. Once they rehab and sell the house, half of the property tax for the next 5 years goes to local government and half to the Land Bank.
Only 42 of the 61 items on #2 have been signed. #48 was vetoed (Town of Hamilton), with a fairly strong veto message. It was similar to the Cohoes situation-it gives more time for filing of the tentative assessment roll. Reval done, review process done, some trying to throw out reval. State intervention in local tax matter. We don't have to worry about this. Joe said the veto is good but is not the last word.
#13 Extends the first-time home buyer exemption through 2016.
Legislature coming back into session for the labor contracts and also for the health care exchange. Other issues won't be opened. Bills are still being introduced even though the Legislature is not in session.
d. Tax Bill Wording (A.I. #90) Does bill need to say "Assessor's Opinion of Value?"
"Estimated FMV of this property." They wanted "assessor" removed, not "estimated." "Assessor's judgment." They want ASSESSOR replaced. Nine counties do not have this wording; their bills just say "Estimated full market value." Sue Otis clarified, "Don't say ‘assessor.'"
Susan S. had Joe look at the law to determine if this is within our discretion. Joe prepared a memo, which she asked him to explain. Joe said that the statute says, "Full value of parcel as determined by the assessor." It does not say that this has to be on the tax bill, but the number would be meaningless with no wording at all. This wording explains what the number represents. This legislation was enacted as part of the STAR legislation to give taxpayers a better understanding of where their assessment comes from, and what to do if they disagree. Deleting the word "assessor" creates some obscurity about the development of this assessment, and defeats the purpose of the legislation. The nine counties that don't have that wording are non-compliant.
Status of A. I. #90 Joe will send out the memo to the membership.
g. and h. were moved to tomorrow morning.
b. Training Update. Paul Szwedo said that the proposed rule changes have been brought to the table. There are three main issues.
1. Minimum qualifications for assessors. This was one of Lee's initiatives; he wanted more stringent requirements and certifications, etc., for holding the position of assessor. We don't think we need more stringent regulations. We want to keep the existing standards, based on education and experience.
2. Minimum qualifications for county directors. These provide for different qualifications for County Director 1, 2 and 3, based on the complexity and size of the county. As of 2013, when their terms expire, everyone must meet the qualifications for County Director 3. We are leaving this provision as is.
3. Continuing Education. We propose a change in required annual continuing education credits from 24 down to 12. We have not reached a consensus with the Training Advisory Group.
Paul called for comments and discussion. Tom Frey asked if the agency is getting away from IAAO standards for professional development. The IAAO standard for continuing ed is 30 hours annually. UAA's is the same.
Paul S. looked at several states' training standards; the midpoint of training hours is 14, the average was 15 hours.
Tom F. asked Paul to check the IAAO study to see if it was assessors or assessors and staff. Paul thinks it was just assessors.
Curt S.-what's the message? Is this change being made for fiscal reasons? Or have we always required too much training? This started last year when there were budget issues.
Sue Otis--a reappointment year is coming up. Continuing education for new folks trying to come up in the profession is critical. Property tax is at the forefront of every newspaper.
Paul Warneck-people will seek out as much education as they want. This is the minimum.
Sue Otis-they'll only get reimbursed for 12 hours; town boards won't go for more hours. Diluting the value of training is a mistake.
Paul Szwedo-the basic three years of training for new assessors is the same. A lot is on-the-job training. Continuing ed keeps you up with what's new.`
Tim Murphy-reimbursement should have nothing to do with it.
Laura V. said she is thrilled. Some of her assessors are having problems-no raises, state not reimbursing over the minimum.
Robin Johnson is happy about the reduction also. We can get updates on the new laws through ORPTS' emails, etc. We can get the other new stuff within the 12 required hours.
Phil Hembdt said that if you can get capable assessors within the 12 hours, you should. Just having the credits doesn't make you qualified. It's an indirect measure.
Tom Frey asked how the rules are adopted. Joe Gerberg explained the process. The State Board used to figure in the process. Now, since the merger, it is up to the DTF Commissioner. However, this process is not at that point yet.
Sue Otis asked if the county directors are in favor of the reduction in required hours.
The county directors said yes.
Tom Frey thinks this was done because of money.
Curt S. asked why ORPTS spent millions of dollars for the past 21 years on training, keeping track of hours, etc. A change should be for the better, he said, not for the worse.
Paul Warneck said he arranged two or three training sessions in Jefferson County about land tables, etc. Staff went because it was quick credit hours, and they are still calling him for help with this. He doesn't see the need to force 24 hours. If towns want their assessors better trained, they should budget the money.
Paul Szwedo said that the next step on this issue is to proceed with the rule process.
Susan S. said that both the tax cap and unfunded mandates are big issues statewide.
e. Legal Questions from Locals-What is the process for assessors to get answers to legal questions?
Joe said that we had 9 attorneys two years ago, and now we have 3. The support staff has been cut also. They are trying to provide services with fewer resources. In the next month or so, they will be implementing a system to redirect questions. Rather than having them go to the ORPTS Legal Mailbox, they will go first to the CRM. Some are straightforward questions that can be dealt with at the regional level. Questions that cannot be handled this way can be referred to legal. Municipal attorneys can still inquire directly to legal. Misinformation about this change has gone out. A formal announcement will be made in late September.
Tom Frey said he doesn't have a CRM. He puts together educational materials. Can he no longer discuss things with ORPTS legal? Joe said they will talk about that. Tom added that the CRMs were giving people the wrong information and it was very destructive.
Joe added that "Opinions of counsel" are yesteryear. There are places on the internet where you can ask legal questions. We can step back a little and look at questions coming in, and put them in a "click here" format.
Paul Szwedo said that we are in the process of transitioning to Tax's Answer Center, and we are starting to use their software. He is looking into putting the legal information into that mode. There is value in sharing the Q and A's.
Curt S. asked if a question goes to a CRM and the CRM thinks that the assessor, rather than the town attorney, should call ORPTS Legal to get the right information, does the CRM have this discretion?
Joe said in this case to send an email, and Legal will call the person.
Teresa Frank said these questions should go through regional management.
Susan S. said this process uses our resources a little differently.
If the region tries to answer the question and they can't, the regional manager then asks ORPTS legal.
Tom Frey thinks it' scary that a CRM is answering a legal question.
Phil H. said that there is no choice.
Joe will send out a formal notification, which will include what the process is.
f. What is the process for establishment of rules, procedures and policies? Does the State board have a role in these areas?
Robin asked about STAR corrections. The memo said to never mind these deadlines, take someone's income information whenever we want, and we'll just make corrections. This supersedes RPT law. How long are we going to take these corrections?
Joe said this is correct; this process is not a "correction of error." The program was created under Tax law and RPT law. The commissioner has determined that the income verification process can continue past the filing of the final roll. A decision as to how long after has not yet been made.
Robin said that Thomas Mattox's name is not on the memo.
Joe said there was a policy question about taking the hard line, and that we should accommodate them in this initial year. Most are not $500,000 earners.
Paul W. said he will live by this memo, but he wants to see it signed by the Commissioner.
Sue O. said that she will not change the language on a form and sign her name to it.
Susan S. said that the intent of the legislation was to help taxpayers, not to play "gotcha."
Sue O. asked that a form be developed that we can use for basic STAR exemption reinstatement, and that a copy of this letter be signed by the Commissioner.
Joe said that Pat Holland is an officer of Tax & Finance; if she takes an action it is the same as the Commissioner taking action.
Sue O. said that Joe Taxpayer doesn't know Pat Holland. The law says it should be signed by the Commissioner.
Curt S. said that taxpayers are angry about losing the exemption and are holding the assessors responsible. We went through the process and told them that they're done. Now we're changing it, and this undermines the assessor's authority.
Joe said forms 554 and 556 are for correcting the roll or authorizing refunds. Form 553 is for correcting the final roll, and you must specify the error. It requires you to cite the specific statute that has been violated.
Topics g., h., and i. were moved to Thursday's agenda.
First Day Wrap-Up: Meeting review. Philly reviewed the topics covered today.
Meeting Feedback/Thursday handouts. There was no feedback. Everyone had all the handouts.
Meeting adjourned at 4:45 pm.