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Department of Taxation and Finance

Minutes - Real Property Tax Administration Committee


Facilitator: Alan Kresge

Day 1 - Thursday, October 27, 2011

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

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

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


Get Organized: Alan Kresge

  • 1. Review minutes from last meeting and finalize. Commissioner Mattox's name was misspelled on page 7. Alan will make the change and put the minutes out as final.
  • 2. Review Action Items. There were none.
  • 3. Review agenda and make necessary changes. Tom Frey asked if we need an hour for Geoff's web demo. It was decided that we probably do not. Alan introduced Denise Trudell, an assessor in several towns in Jefferson, Oswego and Lewis Counties.
  • a. Future Meetings-Location and Time. ORPTS people discussed this topic via teleconference with Sue Otis and Tim Murphy prior to this meeting. John McCarey wants the venue moved around to Albany, Syracuse, etc., for travel time, to get others to serve and/or attend. Susan Savage said that ORPTS's district sites could be opened for video conferencing. Curt said that they did that for the equalization committee, and the people in the remote location couldn't hear, didn't feel like they were part of the meeting, and stopped showing up. Susan said that the technology at Tax & Finance is great. Tom Frey objected to the traffic and the security at T&F. Paul Warneck agreed.

Sue Otis asked if the county directors want a meeting in Syracuse in January. They said no.

Susan suggested a one-day meeting in Syracuse in the spring. Sue Otis said in the summer.

John McCarey said that counties are eliminating travel budgets. He thinks a one-day, 6-hour meeting is doable. Tom F. said we could cut down the agenda for that meeting. John said that there isn't 6 hours allotted now in the agenda. Sue O. said this was tried years ago and it didn't work.

Paul W. said to be cognizant when setting the August agenda that it will be a one-day meeting.

Susan proposed a one-day Friday meeting in Syracuse in August.

Randy Holcomb suggested going to three meetings a year, in January, June and October.  Paul W. suggested bringing this up tomorrow during the Future Direction of RPTAC discussion.

  • b. Staffing Update Susan Savage said that she is hearing good things about the PEF contract. She is making the assumption that it will pass. She doesn't know when the vote will be counted. "We're keeping our fingers crossed. We will proceed with our current staffing."

Curt said that this is a shot fired over the bow.  "You guys are on life support. There will be 4 or 5 counties without CRMs. You should plan for the worse, not hope for the best.

Susan replied, "We tend to focus on our part of the world. This is systemic. Decisions are made broadly. This conversation is happening in many state agencies. If we need to make changes we will, and we will seek your input."

Tom Frey said it appears that, percentage-wise, ORPTS layoffs are out of proportion to the rest of T&F.

Susan explained that the layoffs were targeted by titles that have no CSEA fallback.

  • c. Website Demo Geoff Gloak showed the group how the new website works and answered questions. You do not need to sign up again if you were in the system before. The Online Services are for assessors and property tax directors. He said that if anyone is having trouble accessing what they need, they should call the Solutions Center, or email him and he will call you. Click on "Government and Researchers" first thing, then on "Property Tax and Assessment Administration." Bookmark this for your home page.
  • e. Alternative for Calculating Eq Rate (Issues/Solutions) Curt Schoeberl handed out "Equalization Initiative." He said that this is in response to what may or may not happen at ORPTS, and that he is speaking for himself.

Curt proposes that towns be allowed to make the eq rates, using 3 assessors and county directors. There would still be PDC meetings. The savings that this would realize for the state would be apportioned, with half going into a fund for the counties to do this work. ORPTS would be involved only to ratify those rates. The legislation is already in place for counties to do eq rates for the county portion of the tax, but not for the school portion.

Ninety-three percent of munis agree with ORPTS on their LOAs. Some do an annual reassessment and keep their levels at 100.

It would take a study from ORPTS-how much you spend per parcel on making eq rates annually.

Tim Maher said you can get the assessors together to determine the rate for apportionment. You can test it in Ulster County. You don't need the state to say you can.

Curt said we want to consolidate the process, not make it bigger.

Joe G. said that he is skeptical. Every town is trying to switch their tax to other towns, and you need an impartial arbiter. If we're approving these rates, we have to own this data and be able to defend the calculations, not just look them over. We have a trustworthy process in place.

Joe said that if this is a reasonable process, take it for a test drive.

Christine said that there is no physical appraisal verification in this plan. Where does that come in?

Curt said, "Sales."

Tom F. said that Curt is thinking outside the box. The economy is not rosy. We will see more cuts. Things may have to be changed, but it's not time yet. We need to keep this as an alternative.

Susan S. said Curt's proposal is "good for discussion purposes. Don't share it with DOB."

Tom F. suggested that the eq rate subcommittee look at this proposal. Leave it as is for now.

  • f. Physical Media Moratorium (media ability at regional offices) Pat said that there is a team at T&F that deals with physical media (thumb drives, CDs, etc.) security. T&F has secure data, so using physical media was an issue. What if someone loses a thumb drive? There have been 3 instances where sensitive data was lost at T&F. We get CDs, etc.-there is a concern for security of data exchange. Ours is much lower priority. Pat said that we (T&F) are trying to move away from the use of physical media. We (ORPTS) have asked the commissioner for an exemption from this policy.

Paul W. asked if encryption would affect them.

Pat said yes, you will have to put in the password.

  • g. Property Tax Collection by T&F Sue Otis said that this topic came out of Governance. "Explain the efforts by T&F to collect real property tax at the state level?

Susan said, "The Commissioner asked us to approach five small cities, Gloversville, Cohoes, etc. and have a discussion with them about this. Cohoes has asked T&F to come back and discuss this. This is instead of unfunded mandates to cities with financial issues. (Cities usually collect real property tax through their treasurer's offices, or through banks.) The state would do this for them at no cost. It relieves the locals of the expense of billing. The people involved would craft the process from the ground up."

Tom Frey encouraged them to include the correction of errors process from the start.

The group decided to start discussing some of Friday's topics.

b. Small Claims Procedures--$$ cutbacks, hearing officers look for pre-settlements and don't follow law. John McCarey said there are problems with this everywhere. He received a letter Oct. 6 from a district judge about pre-conferencing and stipulations for SCAR hearings. See handout. John's assessors are very concerned about this. He has about 3,500 small claims a year in his county. The SCAR process needs to be improved. "For a state court to issue a letter like this is totally off-course and needs to be addressed." John has requested a meeting with the judge who wrote this letter. "They're telling assessors to compromise their roll."

He feels that the letter contains a threat-"if you don't do this, you will be set aside until 2012."

Action Item #97 - Susan said that Vic had met with OCA and she will find out what the outcome of that was.

Joe doesn't think the OCA will be horrified by this. There are limited resources, and the judge is doing the best he can.

Tim Murphy hasn't seen a letter like this, but he has seen more stipulations from SCAR this year than in previous years. Issues with small claims continue to compound.

Denise said something must be done about the tax reps, perhaps restricting the amount of money they can charge the taxpayer. Taxpayers don't realize that they don't need a tax rep. Taxpayers need to be educated, and there must be limits set on the amount of the contingency fee.

Susan said that these are legislative remedies.

A suggestion was made to include a 10 percent cap on recovery, and make tax reps register with the Dept. of State and pay a licensing fee.

Action Item #98 - Find out how Nassau County dealt with tax reps.

  • c. Update on Property Tax Cap: Tim Maher said that the guidelines for the cap are on our website. OSC has info on it also. We've established Tax-Based Growth Factors and put them on the site. The ones for school districts are coming out next week. There have not been a lot of questions on this. Sue O. asked if they will be calculating Growth Rate Tax Factor for Global? It is Roll Section 8 but is fully taxable. Global pays a PILOT. Same factor as Edinburg and this is not processing well with politicians. The PILOT only apportions the taxes, it doesn't give them a break.

Maher said that unless they get an exception for this, it will be calculated like any other one.

Susan said that there is a group and they're trying to determine how to handle it.

There are a lot of complicating factors with this IDA property.

  • d. Update on Star 2% Limit-RPS, $500,000 limit.

(RPS) Pat Holland reported that there is a new web release for V4 to take care of towns and counties. There are still some rounding issues. Mail about this went out this morning.

($500,000 income limit) They did a new process and matched 86 percent of parcels with owners' Soc. Sec. #s. Reports for the denials will come out the middle or the end of January. This process is better than last years'. They are still the same type of reports. We have built a database to capture the info, but we're not sure how we're going to get the info. The resident owner can change year to year. Tom Frey asked, What about new STAR? Pat said we're income-verifying for 2011, those new ones won't get looked at till 2012.

First Day Wrap-Up Alan reviewed the meeting, everyone had the handouts, meeting adjourned.

Day 2 - Friday, October 28, 2011

Facilitator: Alan Kresge

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

County Directors: John McCarey, Tim Murphy, Paul Warneck, Dawn Allen, Mike Swan

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


Get Organized: Alan Kresge reviewed the agenda.

f. Sub-Group activities

1. Valuation Issues Team. Tony Ilacqua reported the last meeting for this team was held 9/20/2011.  Issues discussed were Assessor's Manual Volume #6:  Assessor Manual Volume #6 forestry section is on hold due to staffing issues.  RPTAC members suggested contacting David Briggs, Doug Tichenor (Harrietstown) or possibly college students to help with the rewrite of this section.   Clarification of new/revised property class codes for retail business, conservation easement property class code, contaminated sites and short sales/seller concessions were also discussed.  Next meeting is 11/15/2011.

Action Item #99 - Sue Otis requested more information on solar panels for next meeting.


2. Property Class Code-no report.

3. Equalization Team-Pat Holland reported that the group has not met since the last RPTAC meeting. They are moving forward with 2012 procedures.

4. Sales Processing-no report.

a. Future Direction of RPTAC - John McCarey said that since the merger with T&F, ORPTS is not a true third partner at RPTAC. "You don't have an equal seat at the table," he said.

Paul W. said, "We know you believe the organization runs the same way. But there is a lot of apprehension.

Tom Frey said that ORPS was an autonomous agency. "Now, there's a commissioner above you who makes the decisions. There's a whole system to go through."

Susan said, "That is not the case. The structure remains the same. The decisions we make, I discuss with the commissioner, if required. The Commissioner takes the recommendations of ORPTS staff. The RPS issues remain the same. It has to come from DOB and the governor because it's expensive. But the recommendations come from the same people.

Joe responded that the day-to-day responsibilities are not any different than they were before.

Mike Swan said, "Nobody has been told what's going on."

Sue O. said that there is a lack of credibility.

Paul W. said that this argument is symptomatic of the issue. It is going to take time for us to feel comfortable with this new scenario. You have a lot of work to do to make us feel comfortable. For example, what about the education issue? We were told that we would know by early October.

John McCarey asked Susan, "With the merger, as we move forward, where do you see this group benefitting you as the deputy commissioner?"

Susan said that information sharing is important. "We want to be sure that what we do will benefit the local stakeholders. 

Curt said that some things are beyond Susan's control. There are 3 groups in RPTAC. There is a lack of stability. You have no control over the layoffs and that makes us nervous. The trust is no longer there.

Mike Swan told Susan that, "If you could say this-that ORPTS is still ORPS-so that the rank and file could hear it, that would help a lot.  They want to know what's going to happen. The guys in the field don't know what's happening."

Denise T. said that people think that ORPTS will be gone after awhile, and it will be just T&F.

Sue O. said, "We can give taxpayers all the explanations you want and they don't buy it. The field people have to answer to the taxpayer.

Susan said, "We answer questions from state senators every day. Paul Miller takes those calls and makes sure taxpayers have the information.

Mike Swan answered, "Do some PR work-Tell people--‘The buck stops with whoever.'

Gloak said that ORPTS will take a step back and look at how we can communicate. Give us a chance to do that.

Susan said, "There will be differences in style. I don't make snap determinations. I have to get input from people who have worked with this for 30 years."

Tom Frey said that RPTAC's mission statement hasn't changed, and that is what we should be doing. We have stayed on course for a lot of it. We put forth the information and opinions from 3 different stakeholders. Decisions were not made ‘snap.' They were made on topics from a meeting or two ago. But things were finally decided here, not someplace else. That may be a "style" difference, or because there's a hierarchy above you that wasn't there before.

Sue O. said that STAR comes to mind. It started as five points, and after many meetings, and back-and-forth with the legislature, we got it down to 3 points. Each group did its own lobbying, but we agreed on what would work and what wouldn't. We met with the governor's office, we met with budget. We usually don't get that opportunity. It was worked on here.

Pat Holland said, "We want to reassure you that this will continue to happen."

Susan said that the Tax commissioner is not another layer. She keeps him in the loop, cc's him in.

Tom Frey said, "That's the kind of information we needed to know."

Sue Otis said, "This is not how this was laid out before you came here."

Tom Frey said, "That's the first time I've heard this."

Susan said, "I talk to the second floor more than Lee and Vic did."

Christine said, "We need to know this. It gives us a level of confidence that the commissioner above you trusts you to continue as always. We and you need to get this out to the people in the field."

Sue O. asked what the best vehicle is for that-an article in their bulletin? A letter to everyone?

Paul W. suggested waiting till after the PEF vote, then put out a letter saying, ‘This is behind us, this is where we're going."

Action Item #100 - PR communication from Susan Savage to locals.

Alan asked the group how many meetings per year they would like to have-3 or 4? John McCarey proposed having three 2-day meetings, in Albany Feb. 1 & 2, 2012; in Syracuse June 14 & 15, 2012; and in Albany Oct. 18 & 19, 2012. The group would also have the option of a one-day, single-topic fill-in meeting in Syracuse.

Yesterday and today's meetings were a seven-hour agenda. Alan said we could be more efficient.

Paul W. suggested trying the proposed schedule for one cycle, and see if there's any better response with the teleconference, which would be just for the second day.

Susan said that nothing prevents people from calling and having a meeting if there's a need. The three meetings are a good starting point.

Joe said that these dates are at the beginning and end of the legislative session.

Action Item #101 - John McCarey will see if he can get a free meeting room at the Indigo Hotel for the February meeting.

e. RP-5217 Pilot Projects--Pat said that five counties are piloting the bar-coded form. There have not been a lot of problems with it, but there also has not been a lot of data coming in yet. Seven or eight more counties want to come in on this, and we're hoping that will happen in January.

John McCarey will kick this off in Orange County next week. He has a larger sales volume than many counties.

Christine asked Joe about FOIL requests and archiving, relative to not printing these 5217s. Joe said that the scanned image is stored electronically; it has to be preserved, but not necessarily printed.

Someone asked if you can store the pdf. image of the 5217 in RPS. Images do not replicate. Do the assessors know they have to preserve this?

Sue O. said that in Malta every property has an electronic folder and she move the image into that.

$50 million fraud savings-Susan said that this is savings that we need to find. We're getting good data in November, and we're looking for double dippers. We will send this info to the assessors. Pat said that notifying the owner is also an option. This will be done statewide. This involves matching parcels that got the basic STAR exemption in 2011 with Social Security #s. We can search by Soc. Sec. #.

Christine said that the decisions on non-resident owners needs to be shared to clear up our data, so we're not always getting the "undetermined" list.

Pat will take that suggestion back to the committee.

Educational Requirements Status Update (continuing Ed.)-Joe is still working on the rule paperwork.

Susan said that all the senior accountants and senior attorneys received pink slips, and that has affected this process. We were also working on extensions of property tax deadlines for the flooded areas, so the educational requirements were moved to the back burner.

Tom Frey asked for an update on the amount of money for reimbursements, etc. How much is left?

Pat said that Paul Szwedo was working on that and she'll have him email the group. A lot of people are spreading the misinformation that the requirement is 12 credits. This is not yet in effect.

Action Item #102 - Pat Holland will send out an update on the amount of money for reimbursements.

Joe brought up a board meeting issue-there was a complaint against an RAR last time. The board questioned whether this was an appropriate complaint. He thinks that this is not in the board jurisdiction, and he will report this at the Nov. 10 board meeting and say that they are obliged to reject this request, and to order staff not to process it. He will advise the board to consider adopting a guideline about giving short shrift to complaints about an RAR, when the RAR and the LOA are equal. He recommends that these complaints be dismissed without review, but it's up to the board.

Tim Murphy said that one of his assessors asked RPTAC to look at additional forms sent out for renewal for the aged exemption. These assessors think that this information should be asked for across the board. Could form be added to the ORPTS form?

Action Item #103 -  Joe Gerberg will look at adding aged exemption form to the current ORPTS form.

Meeting Wrap-Up, meeting adjourned.

Next meeting is Wed. Feb. 1, 2012 and Thursday February 2, 2012, at Malta Town Hall or the Indigo Hotel.