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Volume 12 - Opinions of Counsel SBRPS No. 28

Opinions of Counsel index

Correction of errors (unlawful entry) (assessor’s unilateral change of assessment between final assessment roll and school tax roll) - Real Property Tax Law §§ 550, 1302:

It is an unlawful entry for an assessor to unilaterally change a final assessment before the levy of school taxes. Such a change is subject to approval by the board of assessment review.

Our opinion has been requested concerning the correction of errors provisions of title three of Article five of the Real Property Tax Law (RPTL, § 550 et seq.). A property owner has complained that one of his properties had a larger exemption on the 2006 final assessment roll than the exemption actually granted to the property on the school district’s 2006-07 tax roll. Indeed, it appears that the parcel, which received an agricultural assessment (Agriculture and Markets Law, Article 25 AA; RPTL, § 481), had a taxable value of $28,044 on the July 1, 2006 final assessment roll (RPTL, § 516). Thereafter, the assessor apparently recalculated the agricultural assessment and unilaterally increased the final assessment roll’s entry for the taxable value to $40,444. {1}  The latter entry was then used for the school tax levy. The property owner paid the school tax bill for this parcel based on the “modification” in its assessed valuation. The question is whether the property’s 2006-07 school tax should have been based on the value entered on the final assessment roll prior to the “modification.”

RPTL, § 1302(1), in pertinent part, provides that: “For the purpose of the levy and collection of taxes, the valuation of real property shall be ascertained from the latest final assessment roll of the city or town. . . .”

RPTL, § 1302 (2) provides:

The city or town assessors shall prepare for each school district wholly or partially within such city or town a duplicate of that part of the final assessment roll applying to such district. The city or town assessors shall deliver the appropriate portion of the final assessment roll to the school authorities of each school district within five days after the completion and certification or verification of such assessment roll.

Accordingly, in our opinion, the school district was required by section 1302 to levy its 2006-07 taxes based on the property valuations entered on the final town assessment roll that was duly filed on or before July 1, 2006 (RPTL, § 516), unless another law provides otherwise.

The correction of errors provisions of the RPTL (§ 550 et seq.) permit the correction of specified types of entries in assessment rolls and tax rolls when the appropriate administrative procedure is followed. Such an erroneous roll entry may involve: “an incorrect entry of assessed valuation on an assessment roll or on a tax roll which, because of a mistake in transcription, does not conform to the entry for the same parcel which appears on the property record card, field book or other final work product of the assessor . . .” (RPTL, § 550(2)(a)).

Assuming arguendo that the assessor believed that the final assessment roll contained such a clerical error in relation to the taxable value entered for the parcel in question, the assessor could have sought correction of that entry by executing and transmitting a petition to the board of assessment review (BAR), pursuant to section 553 of the RPTL. The petition would have alleged: “a clerical error on the assessment roll for the current . . . year which has resulted in an assessed valuation . . . which is less than that actually appearing upon the property record card, field book or other final work product of the assessor . . .” (RPTL, § 553(1)(a)).

That petition could have been considered by the BAR at a meeting held “at least fifteen days subsequent to the filing of the final assessment roll and not more than twenty days prior to the date on which the tax levying body issues the warrant for the collection of taxes” (RPTL, § 553)(3)(a). That is, for 2006-07 school tax purposes, such a petition could have been considered by the BAR at a meeting held between July 16, 2006 (15 days after the final assessment roll was apparently filed), and August 11, 2006 (20 days prior to the school district’s presumed tax levy date of September 1, 2006) (RPTL, § 1306).

Here, such a petition was not timely filed by the assessor and approved by the BAR. Accordingly, in our opinion, the administrative “modification” of the final assessment roll’s entry for this parcel, which was electronically incorporated into the school tax roll, was made without legal authority. Therefore, the property’s 2006-07 school tax should have been based on the property’s taxable value on the final assessment roll prior to the “modification.”

Property owners who have paid excessive real property taxes as a result of certain types of specified errors may apply for refunds (RPTL, § 556). One type of situation to which section 556 applies is an excessive real property tax “attributable to . . . an unlawful entry” (RPTL, § 556(1)(a)). That error appears to have occurred here because the assessor, who unilaterally entered the roll “modification” without BAR approval, made “an entry of assessed valuation on an assessment roll . . . without the authority to make such entry” (RPTL, § 550(7)(c)); see also 6 Op.Counsel SBEA No. 64; 9 id. No. 79; 10 Op.Counsel SBRPS No. 108). In our opinion, the property owner may file an application with the county director of real property tax services seeking a partial refund of the 2006-07 school taxes he paid.

November 28, 2006


{1}  The modification apparently was intended to enter a taxable value for the property that was in accord with the assessor’s “final work product” for the town’s 2006 roll revaluation (see RPTL, § 102(12-a)).

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