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Department of Taxation and Finance




Wednesday - August 10, 2011 (1:00 pm - 4:40 pm)
Thursday - August 11, 2011 (8:30 am - 12:00 pm)

Facilitator: Philomena Reilly
Recorder: Bonnie Hellum

Day 1 - Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Assessors: Tom Frey, Sue Otis, Randy Holcomb, Christine Fusco, Randy Holcomb, Curt Schoeberl.

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

ORPTS: Susan Savage, Tom Bellard, Tim Maher, Pat Holland, Paul Szwedo, Joe Gerberg, Geoff Gloak, Teresa Frank, Phil Hembdt.


Get Organized: Philomena Reilly

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.




Wednesday -August 10, 2011 (1:00 pm - 4:40 pm)
Thursday - August 11, 2011 (8:30 am- 12:00 pm)


Facilitator: Philomena Reilly
Recorder: Bonnie Hellum

Day 2 - Thursday, August 11, 2011

Assessors:  Tom Frey, Sue Otis, Randy Holcomb, Christine Fusco, Curtis Schoeberl

County Directors: John McCarey, Robin Johnson, Dawn Allen, Laura VanValkenburg, Paul Warneck.

ORPTS: Susan Savage, Tom Bellard, Tim Maher, Pat Holland, Paul Szwedo, Joe Gerberg, Geoff Gloak, Teresa Frank.


Get Organized: 1. Review agenda and make necessary changes. Philly recapped yesterday's meeting and said that we have items g., h. and i. from yesterday to discuss.

  • a. Sub-Group Activity Updates
  • 1. Valuation Issues Team--Tony Ilacqua, team leader for the Valuation Issues Team, said that the team met July 12 and has another meeting scheduled for Sept. 20. They are finished with the commercial section and are working on the residential section. He handed out the list of the new structure codes now on RPS, also re-label, etc. (See hand out.) All structure codes are available for all property types. The system will not allow the old codes to be used. Notification needs to go out to the assessment community about this change, and the information also needs to be changed in the data collection course curriculum.
  • 2. Property Class Code-- Beth Cervenack was not in attendance.

3. Equalization Project Team-- Pat Holland reported that the team met in June. There were no big issues. Curt brought up a new issue-some communities no longer do annual reassessments, and there's an eq rate of 107 in one of them; assessments are higher than estimate of market value.  ORPTS certifies those numbers. Is the comptroller going to pay state-owned land tax on property where the assessment is higher than the LOA? This is not going to be the last time these numbers occur, if the market continues as it is. What will be the impact on STAR? On the 2% tax cap?

Tim Maher said that there is a 5% tolerance. More than one place has an eq rate of more than 100. These places chose an LOA above ORPTS' initial opinion. This is worth discussing at a RPTAC equalization meeting.

Joe said that our role is to determine the LOA within the tolerance of what the assessor claims it is.

The cap is based on the last year's tax savings. STAR is calculated using the rate, even if it is over 100. Pat will schedule a meeting of the eq team.

g. Property Tax Cap-

Implementation of new law-Tim Maher said the governor signed it in late June; it affects school districts, local governments and special districts. In process of determining how it is calculated. Starts in 2012. Allows for increase in the tax base due to new property.

OSC, ORPTS and the Education Dept. are working on the details now. Later, before the assessors have to deal with this, they will receive details in writing.

Calculation of Tax Base Growth Factors--ORPTS has to establish the tax rate growth factor, based on the difference between 2009 and 2010, using information from assessors' reports. Tim said he plans to get those numbers out this month.

h. Electronic RPT -Implementing new legislation that authorizes E-RPT

Tim Maher said modernizing RPT administration is part of the budget. It gives us the authority to shift from paper to electronic. Optional in each area.

Tim said this will start with billing and collection. We will help about 10 cities that are willing.

Paul Warneck said he will be working with two towns starting in January, accepting online payments.

A.I. #96 Create RPTAC sub-committee for e-RPT. Each group will send a name to Tim Maher.

Bumped Wednesday's item i. to end of meeting.

  • c. STAR ($500,000 income limit and 2% savings cap.)
  • 1. Update on status--Pat Holland said that the $500,000 income limit is still in place. We are still trying to get the database together. There are lots of factors to look at.
  • 2. Correction Process--She did the correction process yesterday, and hopes to have information go out in November. The RPS patch went out in July, and another is going out today or tomorrow. There will be communication about this.
  • 3. Plans for 2012--Robin wants the tax roll amended so it adds up. She said you shouldn't need a calculator and instructions to know how much you're going to collect. Tim M. will look into making the change for next year.
  • d. STAR-How can we identify and eliminate fraud for 2012? Tim Maher said that the Office of the Budget has identified a savings target of $50 million for 2012-2013. How do they plan to achieve this?

The group thought this number is too high. Susan Savage said that there is a lot that could be done on the local level that we don't know about.

Sue Otis said that it is not mostly duplicates, it's people with out-of-state properties.

We saved the $40 million that was projected last year.

Sue O. wants rules to clamp down on criteria for primary residency. A utility bill doesn't cut it.

Susan S. said that the courts have ruled that you can pick one of your residences for voting.

There's a three-year look-back on STAR, so you can recoup three years of the exemption.

Robin wants a clear, concise law on removing the exemption. The public needs to be educated.

Tim will look into putting people on a blacklist on our secure website.

LLCs should not be getting exemptions.

  • e. Uniform Assessment Standards-Update on outreach effort.

Robin had no report.

  • i. Integration of ORPTS website to DTF website. Geoff Gloak said that our web content will be merging into the DTF website, following their standard. DTF just did a redesign. The goal is to significantly improve what is available to the assessment community and taxpayers. You will not be losing any content.

Our site has not been redesigned since 2001. Taxpayer information has been organized as pamphlets and FAQs. DTF doesn't do FAQs. Geoff rewrote all the pamphlets into regular web content and feels they are more helpful this way.

Assessor's offices can still use the pamphlets; they will be available as pdf.s in the assessor's section of the site.

The target date for integration of the site is Oct. 12. "Government and Researchers" is where assessors will go into their section. The Solutions Center and Geoff and the CRMs will be available to help. When you run a search, you are searching the whole DTF website.

"Individuals" is where taxpayers go for information.

The usability testing has already been done. Geoff now needs the assessment community to tell him what links they have into the ORPTS site, so he can tell everyone what's going to change, and so the links don't go bad.

The group asked Geoff to put a notice on the ORPTS site as an FYI, saying that "this site will be changing."

Paul Warneck wants the assessment community to get a page 10 days or so before it goes live, so they can learn to use it, and test their links.

Christine Fusco said that soon after the site is changed, it would be good to have a county assessors' meeting to do a walk-through to learn the site. It could be done by region or at the association meeting.

Miscellaneous: Sue Otis handed out a letter from Laverne Tenneberg (see handout), saying that the Change of Assessment Notice does not state the form number that the taxpayer needs to make a complaint. She wants this number to be included on the Change of Assessment notice. Joe said yes to this. Dawn Allen said that she uses the free-form section to give the form number. Pat will see what Greg Kidd has to say about changing this.

Christine asked about the unique parcel ID. Tim M. said that we haven't decided how fast we're moving in that direction. If we decide to move faster, everyone will be notified.

Meeting Wrap-Up:

  • 1. Review Action Items/member responsibilities. A.I. #96 Create RPTAC sub-committee for e-RPT. Each group will send a name to Tim Maher.
  • 2. Topics for next meeting. The group discussed changing the location and the number of days of future RPTAC meetings. Paul Warneck suggested going longer on the first day of a two-day meeting. Philly said we'll extend the time frame so we don't have to cut things short. This will be an agenda item at the next meeting.
  • 3. Next Meeting-Date/ Location: The next RPTAC meeting will held Thursday, October 27, 12:30 p.m.- 5:00 pm, and Friday, October 28, 8:30 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. at Malta Town Hall.