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Volume 2 - Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 66

Opinions of Counsel index

Assessment roll (school district) - Real Property Tax Law, §§ 1302, 1306(1); Westchester County Administrative Code, Article 16, §§ 539, 540, 541:

Time schedules set forth in the appropriate statutes provide school districts with considerable latitude in the procedure to be followed in levying and extending school taxes. Since no statute requires a school district comprised of towns in Westchester County and another county to wait until the completion of a non-Westchester County town assessment roll before levying taxes, the school district may use the latest final assessment roll of that town, or, in its discretion, wait for the completion of the more current roll.

We have received an inquiry concerning the taxable status of property acquired for park purposes by a village park district in the Town of A for school taxes levied on behalf of the B town school district.

The property was acquired in January of 1971 and qualified for exemption on the A town assessment roll completed in the year 1971. The property was taxable on the 1970 roll.

Apparently, school taxes for the 1971-1972 fiscal year of the school district were levied in June of 1971. Of course, any levy made at that time had to be made on the 1970 assessment roll of the Town of A since the 1971 roll had not been completed and was not required to be completed before August 1, 1971. The result is that school taxes were levied on the property of the park district.

The school district in which the subject property is located covers property in several towns, most of which are in Westchester County although the Town of A is not. One theory is that the levy had to be made in June in order to conform to requirements in the Westchester County Tax Law (Westchester County Administrative Code Art. 16).

Under the provisions of the Westchester County Tax Law, the amount of annual school taxes fixed by the trustees and board of education of each school district is directed by section 540 to be certified to the town supervisor before June 1 in each year. Section 541 then provides that the town supervisor, upon receiving such certification, “shall immediately extend or cause to be extended the tax or assessment for such certified tax district.” However, school district taxes do not become a lien and payable until September 1 as the taxes for that school fiscal year (§ 539).

The opposing theory is that school taxes levied on property located in the Town of A should have been levied on the Town’s 1971 assessment roll. The reason is that this roll was available to the school district in ample time, i.e., by August 1, 1971, for use in levying taxes which were not due and payable until September 1 of that year.

          Under the Real Property Tax Law (the law which covers property located in the Town of A) taxes are not required to be levied for school districts (other than city school districts) until September 1 of each year (Real Property Tax Law, § 1306(1)).

The sequence of dates for the determination and levy of school taxes on property located in Westchester County required that the town supervisor use the assessment roll finally completed and filed on September 15, 1970, for school taxes levied for the fiscal year 1970-1971. This must be because the 1971 assessment roll prepared by the town board of assessors was not required to be finally completed and filed before September 15, 1971, or 15 days after school taxes are due.

Actually, in the situation at hand we do not agree fully with either of the above presented theories.

Rather, we think that a court would adopt the general reasoning of Justice Gibson in Lone Star Cement Corp. v. Bd. of Education of City School District of City of Hudson, 32 App. Div.2d 101, 300 N.Y.S.2d 51. That reasoning is that statutory provisions governing school district taxation are permissive and flexible and give school districts considerable latitude in the procedure to be followed in levying and collecting school taxes. The inference of the decision to us is that a school district must follow only those time schedules specifically set forth in the appropriate statutes.

Since no statute required the B Town School District to wait until the completion of the Town of A 1971 assessment roll before levying taxes, we do not believe a court would require them to do so.

On the other hand, it is also our opinion that the school district has the discretion and power to wait and use the 1971 Town of A school roll. This is feasible since it would have at least a month (August 1 to September 1) to equalize the various rolls, levy taxes and send out the bills.

The argument of a school district in the Lone Star Cement Corp. case, supra, that assessment rolls compiled in the same year must be utilized because of equalization requirements is not sound.

Normally, at the time of equalizing in school districts (July or August), the “latest state equalization rates” are the rates established in the preceding year for the previous year’s rolls. Equalization could be effected between the rolls used for the B town School District by obtaining a special rate for the Town of A 1971 roll if there has been a substantial change in the level of assessment.

However, it is our conclusion that the B town School District had the power to levy taxes prior to the completion of the 1971 assessment roll of the Town of A and, therefore, to use the 1970 roll of said town as the “latest final assessment roll” of said town.

April 6, 1972