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Volume 3 - Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 66

Opinions of Counsel index

Public records (village tax rolls) - General Municipal Law, § 51; Village Law, § 4402(e) :

Village tax rolls are public records and are to be made available to any interested party upon reasonable request, subject to reasonable regulation as to the date, time and manner of inspection.

Our opinion has been requested concerning the inspection of the village tax roll. Access to the roll had been denied by a village clerk and we have been asked for an interpretation of the applicable sections of the law regarding the right of inspection.

Section 51 of the General Municipal Law states, in part, that:

All books of minutes, entry or account, and the books, bills, vouchers, checks, contracts or other papers connected with or used or filed in the office of, or with any officer, board or commission acting for or on behalf of any . . . village . . . in this state or any body corporate or other unit of local government in this state which possesses the power to levy taxes or benefit assessments upon real estate or to require the levy of such taxes or assessments or for which taxes or benefit assessments upon real estate may be required pursuant to law to be levied . .. are hereby declared to be public records, and shall be open during all regular business hours subject to reasonable regulations to be adopted by the applicable local legislative body to the inspection of any taxpayer . . . .

In addition, section 4-402(e) of the Village Law provides that:

The clerk of each village shall, subject to the direction and control of the mayor:

* * *
e. shall, during office hours as prescribed by the board of trustees, on demand of any person, produce for inspection the books, records and papers of his office, and shall furnish a copy of any portion thereof, certified in the proper form to be read in evidence, upon payment of his fees therefor, at the rate of twenty cents per folio;

These sections of the General Municipal Law and the Village Law are clear in their direction that village tax rolls are public records and are to be made available to any interested party upon reasonable request. To restrict inspection of the tax roll to “review day” would not be a reasonable interpretation of these sections.

However, it is also true that reasonable regulations may be established regarding the inspection of these records. For example, times and dates when these records may be inspected may be specified, and if someone wishes to make an extensive inspection of any records, or to photograph a lengthy record, such requirements may include a provision that someone from the public office be present while such records are being examined or copied. Such requirements may also limit the number of records that may be inspected at any one time, since if a taxpayer wished to examine or compare all records at once, it might impede the ability of the public officer to perform his function by limiting his access to necessary records.

December 28, 1973