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Volume 3 - Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 13

Opinions of Counsel index

Taxes (receipts) (Suffolk County) - Real Property Tax Law, §§ 980, 986; Suffolk County Tax Act, §§ 23-a, 71:

Pursuant to the Suffolk County Tax Act, section 23-a, the form of the tax receipts for towns in Suffolk County is to be prescribed by the county legislative body subject to the approval of the State Board of Equalization and Assessment.

We have received an inquiry requesting an examination of the separate tax receipts for the ten towns in Suffolk County. Enclosed were copies of proofs used for the 1972-1973 tax levy in each town which show the tax statement as well as the tax receipt.

          Section 23-a of the Suffolk County Tax Act provides that tax receipts are to be “. . . in such form and under such system as to details, numbering, stubs, carbon copies and other details as the board of supervisors shall, subject to the approval of the tax commission, prescribe . . .”. This procedure is a departure from that generally applicable contained in section 986 of the Real Property Tax Law which provides that the State Comptroller shall prescribe the form of tax receipts. However, the Comptroller has stated that the State Board of Equalization and Assessment has retained a vestigial duty of approving the farm of tax receipts prescribed by the Suffolk County legislative body (see, Op.State Compt. 73-76). (Most functions, powers and duties of the State Tax Commission pertaining to or connected with the assessment and taxation of real property were transferred to the State Board of Equalization and Assessment by Chapter 346 of the Laws of 1949, as amended by Chapters 293 of the Laws of 1952, 150 of the Laws of 1954, and 335 of the Laws of 1960.) The pertinent provisions of law with respect to tax statements and receipts are set forth below.

Real Property Tax Law, section 922 provides that the statement of taxes to be mailed to each owner of real property listed on the tax roll shall show the amount of taxes due, the period covered by such taxes, the times and places fixed for receiving taxes, and the name and address of the collecting officer.

Real Property Tax Law, section 980 provides that, notwithstanding any general, special or local law, every statement and receipt issued for taxes levied upon real property shall set forth in the manner prescribed by the State Comptroller the estimated amount of local assistance to be received by the municipal corporation from the State within the fiscal year for which such taxes are levied. The form of statement prescribed by the State Comptroller (2 NYCRR 80.1) reads: “The total amount of local assistance estimated to be received from the state of New York by the . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . of . . . . . . . . . . during the fiscal year ending . . . . . , 19 . . ., is . . . . . . . . ”  It is further noted that Real Property Tax Law, section 980, also provides (subdivision 3) that, “Failure to state the amount of local assistance as provided in this section shall not in any manner affect the validity of the taxes or the penalties imposed by law in respect thereto.”

Pursuant to Real Property Tax Law, section 986, tax receipts must provide for the date of payment, name of person paying, description of property, name of person to whom assessed, the amount of tax, and the date of delivery of tax roll.

In regard to this request, it is noted that the Suffolk County legislative body apparently did not take formal action (as provided in § 23-a of the County Tax Act) to prescribe the form of tax receipts. It is respectfully suggested that consideration be given to this matter, with the further suggestion that a local study be made of the needs of each individual town with the goal of prescribing uniform tax statements and receipts.

As requested, each of the submitted tax statements and receipts were examined in light of the above-referenced general laws. The tax statements for the Towns of Shelter Island, East Hampton and Southampton do not show the name of the collecting officer. The tax statements and receipts for all ten towns do not set forth the estimated amount of local assistance. In all other respects the tax statements and receipts provide for the items required by the general laws.

It is further noted that pursuant to section 71 of the Suffolk County Section 71 provides as follows:

There shall be a ruled column for arrears in every tax bill rendered for taxes for lots on which said arrears or assessments may be due, or may have been sold and are still redeemable, in which shall be written opposite the entry of the description of said lot or parcel of land “Arrears” and at the bottom of said bill shall be printed: “Whenever any tax or assessment shall remain unpaid for six months from February first, the property will be sold to satisfy such arrears of taxes or assessments, and all taxes and assessments up to a day to be named in the advertisement of sale. The amount of arrears may be obtained from and paid to the county treasurer.”

Accordingly, the tax statements for each of the ten towns in Suffolk County must contain a ruled column to show the word “Arrears” should a subject property become tax delinquent, and at the bottom of the tax statement must be printed the informational county treasurer’s statement contained in section 71. It is noted that each of the ten tax statements shows on the front thereof a rectangular box containing the statement, “If the word ‘arrears’ is stamped, typed or printed in this box, consult county treasurer, county center, Riverhead, N.Y. for particulars. See also county treasurer’s notice on the reverse side.” In each case the county treasurer’s notice is printed on the reverse side of the bill. The statement as printed on the Town of Riverhead and Town of Huntington tax bill refers incorrectly to “tax lien” instead of “property” as provided in section 71.

To our knowledge the courts have not ruled as to whether the statement specified in section 71 may legally be printed on the back or the front of the tax bill. Nonetheless, we believe that the above procedure would satisfy the notice requirement of section 71. However, the courts have held that section 71 must be strictly construed (e.g., Rogers v. Pact Realty Corp., 26 N.Y.2d 872, 258 N.E.2d 101, 309 N.Y.S.2d 607; Devine v. County of Suffolk, 71 Misc.2d 883, 337 N.Y.S.2d 883).

July 16, 1973