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Volume 10 - Opinions of Counsel SBRPS No. 92

Opinions of Counsel index

State of New York exemption (liability for water district charges); Special ad valorem levies (water charges) (liability of New York State) - Public Lands Law, § 19; Real Property Tax Law, §§ 102(14), 404, 490:

Tax exempt property owned by the State of New York is also exempt from special ad valorem levies imposed on behalf a water district, including the capital cost portion of such charges.

We have been asked whether property owned by the State of New York is liable for the capital cost portion of charges for a water district. Assuming the reference is to tax exempt State property, it appears that there is no such liability.

It is true that section 404(1) of the Real Property Tax Law provides that State-owned property is exempt from taxation and special assessments and special ad valorem levies to the extent provided in section 490, and it is also true that section 490 provides that property exempted pursuant to one of the sections listed therein (e.g., § 404(1)) is liable for the capital cost portion of special ad valorem levies (defined in RPTL, §102(14)) levied for water district (and a few other) purposes. However, as we state in the Assessor’s Manual, “[W]hile RPTL, § 404(1) and § 490 imply that state-owned property is entitled to a limited exemption from special ad valorem levies, it has been the opinion of the NYS Attorney General (Op.Atty.Gen., 1953, p.133) that [tax exempt] state-owned lands and improvements are wholly exempt from such levies . . .” (NYS Assessor’s Manual, Vol. 4, § 4.02, p.43.01 (1/1/95)).

In that opinion, written to the State Comptroller, the Attorney General (in part) noted that:

All assessments against State lands for local improvements are controlled by section 19 of the Public Lands Law and any such assessment which does not, or, in the nature of things, cannot, meet the requirements of that section is illegal and void. This means that any such assessments levied on the ad valorem basis may not legally be levied against State-owned land.

We have been advised that the State Comptroller continues to rely on the Attorney General’s 1953 opinion, {1} as have we in several of our opinions on this subject (e.g., 1 Op.Counsel SBEA No. 116; 3 id. No. 39). The apparent conclusion is, notwithstanding the provisions of sections 404(1) and 490 (see, 1972 Op.Atty.Gen. 41), unless the criteria of section 19 of the Public Lands Law are satisfied, the State will not pay any special ad valorem levy on its tax exempt property. Barring statutory amendment, a contrary opinion from a court of competent jurisdiction, or a different opinion from the Attorney General, we defer to the conclusion expressed in the 1953 opinion.

November 5, 1999

{1}  Note that the opinion, in part, construed the so-called closing paragraphs of (former) section 4 of the Tax Law (added L.1953, c.876), the provisions of which form the basis for current section 490 of the RPTL (see discussion in 7 Op.Counsel SBEA No. 88).