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Volume 2 - Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 86

Opinions of Counsel index

Taxes (collection) (Binghamton) - Second Class Cities Law, § 69; Binghamton City Charter, §§ 39 and 40:

In the absence of a statute to the contrary, a collector of taxes may not accept less than the full amount of the tax bill. The Binghamton City Charter provides for the collection of city taxes in two installments, but does not provide for acceptance of less than the total amount due to the city.

We have received an inquiry concerning the refusal by a city treasurer to accept a partial payment of real property taxes. The taxes levied against two parcels owned by a taxpayer in the City of Binghamton totaled $820.76, but because of a mistake made in adding the two bills ($650.95 and $169.81) the taxpayer mailed a check to the city treasurer in the amount of $810.76. The treasurer rejected the payment, and ultimately the taxpayer was required to pay an additional one percent penalty. The taxpayer asserts that the treasurer should be permitted to accept a partial payment, and he criticizes the “state mandate” which prohibits such acceptance.

          First, the general and long standing rule of law in New York State is that in the absence of a statute to the contrary, a collector of taxes may not accept less than the full amount of the tax bill (In re Wadham’s Estate, 249 App. Div. 271, 292 N.Y.S. 102; 1933, Op.Att’y.Gen. 176; 11 Op.State Compt. 680; 13 Op.State Compt. 24). The levy and collection of taxes in the City of Binghamton is governed by the Real Property Tax Law and by the City Charter for the City of Binghamton. Neither statute contains authorization for receipt of a partial payment of real property taxes by the city tax collector. However, as discussed below, the City Charter does contain authorization for the installment collection of city taxes.

As to the City of Binghamton, specifically, Local Law No. 2 of 1953 provides that the city treasurer shall be vested “with all of the powers and duties prescribed, imposed and conferred upon the treasurer by the Second Class Cities Law, the supplemental charter of the City of Binghamton, the Optional City Government Law, the General Municipal Law and all other laws and ordinances of the City of Binghamton applicable thereto.” Section 69 of the Second Class Cities Law provides, in part, that “the treasurer shall demand, collect, receive and have the care and custody of and shall disburse all moneys belonging to or due the city from every source, except as otherwise provided by law.” Neither law provides authorization for acceptance of any partial payment of real property taxes.

However, sections 39 and 40 of the City Charter do provide that the city treasurer shall collect city taxes in two installments, the first installment payable during the month of January and the second installment payable during the month of July. Specified penalties attach to amounts unpaid subsequent to the months of January and July. There is no further provision for acceptance of less than the total amount of taxes due to the city treasurer.

The Real Property Tax Law does contain several sections which authorize a partial payment of taxes (§§ 1434, 1500, 1514). However, these sections relate to specified municipalities (e.g., towns in Clinton, Columbia, Orange, Orleans, Rensselaer, Schoharie and Westchester Counties), and they are really a vestige of the law developed prior to the passage of the provision authorizing the installment collection of taxes (§ 928). However, again these sections have no application to the City of Binghamton.

Implicit in the above discussion, of course, is the fact that the City of Binghamton may adopt a provision in its Charter to permit the partial payment of taxes to the city treasurer. As to the wisdom of enacting such broad legislation (as opposed to the precise installment payment provisions such as in the current Charter), we have two comments. First, when the taxpayer has the right to pay any amount of his tax bill, it seems apparent that certain administrative difficulties will ensue. There will be a great deal of extra work in accounting for the amounts due and the amounts which remain delinquent, and the additional accounting of the various penalty and interest provisions would necessarily add additional duties and complications to the process because of the manner in which such penalties and interests attach to the lien (i.e., differing percentages in ensuring months).

In addition to the administrative difficulties, it also occurs to us that, if the tax collector may accept any amount tendered, there will really be no way in which the taxpayer can be sure he has paid the full amount of the tax unless he is to examine the tax roll personally subsequent to each tax bill. In other words the current provisions which prohibit the tax collector from accepting less than the amount or installment amount due actually protect the taxpayer in that he is always certain as to whether or not his tax liability has been satisfied by the payment which he has tendered. In the absence of this prohibition, in a situation such as the aforementioned one, the $10 deficiency may have gone to tax sale and the taxpayer may have finally been required to pay much more in order to clear title to the property.

October 20, 1972