II. Procedural Standards
2.1 ASSESSMENT DATA: Each parcel has an individual file of all its property data (inventory), which is maintained on a computerized record such as RPS or equivalent, and is updated by inspection at least every six years.
Guidance: Physical and economic change affect every parcel and every neighborhood differently – and thereby make property inventory less accurate over time. Fair and accurate assessments require that individual property data be accurate, regularly updated, and readily accessible and analyzable. This means that each locally assessed parcel has a complete and up–to–date inventory in electronic format, which may have to be supplemented with paper documents or photographs. To maintain up–to–date inventory, there is ongoing monitoring of (1) building permits, (2) sales, and (3) property income, expense and cost data – which come with inspection, data collection, analysis, and resulting updates of inventory. There is an inspection of every parcel at least every six years; inspection from the public right of way is necessary if there is no physical entry. Inspection is the collection and verification of the data items contained in the ORPTS Data Collection Manual (Assessors Manual – Data Collection and Maintenance of Property Inventories [formerly Assessors Manual, Vol. 6])
Assistance: The standards for maintaining inventory in New York are contained in Part 190 of the Rules of the State Board of Real Property Tax Services. The ORPTS data collection manual is available. The IAAO standard is inspection at least once every four to six years (Standard on Mass Appraisal of Real Property, 3.3.4)
Guidance: Properties that have sold are promptly inspected to update the accuracy of the data in the assessor's records, as well as to verify the terms of sale. Every sale is verified, preferably by contact with a party to the sale. The physical inventory at time of sale is verified, either prior to the next taxable status date or within ninety (90) days of receipt of the real property transfer form (RP-5217). Physical inspection is the preferred method of verification; however, the data mailer is an alternative method. A file of all real property sale transfers is created by entry on computerized software, RPS V-4 or the equivalent. Each sale is identified as either: a valid arms length sale, or a sale that is not considered for valuation purposes and/or ratio studies. The inventory for each sale is located on the same file. If the sale falls into a category on the RP-5217 of other than arms length, such as sales with excessive personal property or special terms of financing, the sale is excluded from sale ratio studies as well as valuation.
Assistance: The ORPTS website contains information on the sales reporting process. The IAAO has prepared a sample sales verification form (Standard on Ratio Studies) that assessors can send to purchasers.
Guidance: Under RPTL 300, all property is subject to taxation unless an exemption is provided by statute. There are numerous statutes that provide various exemptions applicable to types of property or property owners. The assessing unit undertakes reasonable efforts to inform property owners of any filing deadlines or renewal requirements. Such efforts include the use of municipal websites, public media, and direct contact.
Assistance: Volume 4 of the Assessors Manual contains information on the various exemptions that are available.
Guidance: The assessing unit makes available all public information related to assessments. The only assessment data that is non-public is information that is specifically exempted from disclosure, such as personal information of individual property owners or information relating to litigation. Ideally, the public has internet or other ready access to all information on the property record cards of all parcels in the assessing unit as well as full value data for all parcels.
Assistance: If an assessing unit maintains a website this is an excellent means to provide public access to assessing information. There are a number of county or municipal websites that currently provide access to assessing information. See ORPTS for a list. On challenging assessments, see ORPTS publications, Fair Assessments: A Guide for Property Owners, and Contesting Your Assessment in New York State. Also readily available on the ORPTS website are forms and instructions for challenging assessments.
Guidance: Ongoing communication with the public is as much a part of the assessment function as property appraisal, exemption processing and tax roll preparation. The goal is to make the assessment process as transparent and understandable as possible to the general public. Local officials must be aware that assessment is a municipal function and should not publicly disparage real property tax officials. Use of public media, publications, public meetings, taxpayer letters, and regular office hours are all components of effective public relations. During a comprehensive reassessment, extensive public relations are especially important. In all interactions with the public, assessing staff should be professional and courteous.
Assistance: Public relations begin in the office, one taxpayer at a time. Each interaction with a taxpayer is an opportunity to help provide a basic understanding of the assessment function and the goal of fair property taxation. While quality customer service is the norm, it is also recognized that not every taxpayer will be satisfied. ORPTS provides a variety of publications to help taxpayers understand and avail themselves of the assessment process and to assist in public relations.
Guidance: Adequate resources in particular staffing are essential for effective assessment administration. The real property tax is the largest source of revenue for local governments and provides over half the revenue for local schools. Given the magnitude of the property tax and the need to ensure that taxpayers receive equitable assessments for their properties, adequate staffing and resources are all the more important and reasonable.
The cost of effective assessment administration will vary across the state, primarily due to different labor costs, which is the bulk of assessment expense. Specific staff functions in an assessing unit include data collection, sales processing, property appraisal, trend analysis, exemption administration, public relations and many other duties. Some assessing units assign additional duties to assessing staff, while others have non-assessing staff perform some assessing duties, thus making comparisons and generalizations difficult.
One measure is the overall cost of property tax collection as a percentage of the tax collected; however, such measures count all expense, including billing, collection, grievance, refunds, and foreclosure. Another is parcels per assessing staff: the IAAO points to 2,500 parcels per assessing unit staff person. (IAAO, Property Appraisal and Assessment Administration, pp. 420-421.) The IAAO also points out that larger assessing units benefit from economies of scale and can handle more than 2,500 parcels per staff person. Given that more than half of the assessing units in New York have less than 2,500 parcels, it may be appropriate for smaller assessing units to consider sharing services or outsourcing, whether by contracting with the county, joining in a coordinated assessment program, or sharing an assessor. (Note that a single "parcel" can consist of many co-op or mobile home units, so the parcels per staff measure can only be a rule of thumb.)
The cost of maintaining and updating accurate property data, as well as periodic comprehensive appraisals, must also be taken into account.
Assistance: See the ORPTS document, "Guidelines for Effective Assessment Administration in New York State - A Self-Review Guide for Assessing Units," which is available on the ORPTS website.
Guidance: Under RPTL Article 3, assessors are required to be certified by completion of a course of training. In addition, appointed assessors and sole elected assessors must take 12 hours of continuing education per year. Assessors attending training to comply with ORPTS requirements may be eligible for reimbursement of necessary expenses. Training - both initial and continuing education - is important for effective assessment administration. These programs cover the statutes, regulations, procedures and practices of assessment valuation and administration, and thereby equip individuals for the responsibilities of their positions and to ensure continued competence. All assessors and staff should take advantage of educational opportunities that become available. While not required, assessing staff other than assessors should attend a minimum of six hours of training annually.
The assessing unit appoints qualified individuals to assessor and assessing staff positions.
Guidance: Taxpayers have the right to seek review of their assessments. In order to provide a fair review, the assessing unit appoints qualified individuals to serve on the board of assessment review and insures that these individuals have completed required training. The only qualification for service on the board of assessment review, other than residency, is that the appointees have a "knowledge of property values in the local government or village" ( 523[b]). The assessing unit should look for qualifications beyond this minimum. Experience in construction, finance and the law can assist board members in performing their duties. The assessing unit provides information for the taxpayer to be able to determine whether his or her assessment is equitable. Section 526(4) requires that the assessor attend the grievance proceedings.
Assistance: On challenging assessments, see ORPTS publications, Fair Assessments: A Guide for Property Owners, and Contesting Your Assessment in New York State. Also readily available on the ORPTS website are forms and instructions for challenging assessments.
Guidance: The assessor must be heard by the Board of Assessment Review if the assessor requests to speak. If a taxpayer seeks Small Claims Assessment Review and the assessing unit assigns the responsibility to represent the assessing unit to the assessor, the assessing unit provides the support necessary for adequate representation. If a taxpayer seeks judicial review pursuant to Art 7, Title 1, a "tax certiorari" proceeding, the assessing unit can seek or accept the support of the county and school districts that levy taxes on its assessment roll in defending those assessments in these judicial proceedings. The assessing unit should retain counsel with expertise in this area.
Assistance: In the defense of assessments, the RPS analysis for sales and subject properties, as well as the single parcel and batch valuation programs, is available.
Guidance: Modern professional assessing involves the collection, analysis and presentation of large volumes of property information. This requires the availability of a computer database, analytic and other technological tools for assessment administration. ORPTS has developed and maintains assessment administration software RPS which is specifically designed to support all statutory components of the New York State system of real property tax administration. RPS is used by the vast majority of assessing units across the state. Assessing units pay RPS fees to defray a fraction of the total cost, and many County Real Property Services offices host countywide RPS installations and/or provide technical support. Most county RPS offices also provide GIS, tax bill support and other services. Where an assessing unit does not use RPS, the software is compatible with RPS, to enable the assessing unit to administer the real property tax. Internet access is essential for all assessing units to connect to the ORPTS website and to communicate to taxpayers.
Assistance: ORPTS provides extensive training and advice on RSP V-4, Computer-Assisted Mass Appraisal (CAMA), Geographic Information System (GIS), and other technology. See ORPTS website or contact ORPTS local or Albany ORPTS.
Guidance: Perhaps the most essential of assessment tools is an adequate tax map reflecting the size, shape and geographic characteristics of each parcel of land in the assessing unit. The county Real Property Tax Services Agency is responsible for the creation and maintenance of tax maps (except in Westchester County, where tax map responsibility lies with the city or town). The tax mapping agency and local assessor work together to produce annually a set of tax maps for each assessing unit.
Assistance: The requirements for tax maps are contained in Part 189 of State Board rules. The roles of the assessor and the tax mapper are discussed in 10 Op. Counsel SBRPS No. 2. Also see 6 Op. Counsel SBEA No. 36 and 7 Op. Counsel SBEA No. 21
- High-resolution street-view images (suggested update at least every 6 years).
- Orthophoto images (suggested update every 2 years in rapid growth areas, or 6-10 years in slow growth areas).
- Low-level oblique images capable of being used for measurement verification (suggested update every 2 years in rapid growth areas or, 6-10 years in slow growth areas).
Guidance: Street level photos of all improved properties are extremely helpful in administering the real property tax, both in terms of valuation and in assisting the public with assessments. Current photographs of all improved parcels should be maintained on RPS or equivalent.
Assistance: A photo program is available on NYS RPS V-4. Other tools are also available, such as aerial photography and oblique aerial photography. The assessor's office has a digital camera to download photos to NYS RPS V-4 or equivalent.
Assessing units may employ a set of digital image technology tools. These tools may be located at and implemented by the county real property tax agency to reduce costs. This tool set may include:
This alternative is be used in conjunction with information obtained through the building permit process, and with assessor staff visits to observe changes in neighborhood condition, trends and property characteristics. A physical review is necessary when there has been a property sale, significant construction changes, or catastrophic damage. The IAAO Standard on Mass Appraisal of Real Property, 3.3.5 (January 2008) provides direction.