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Volume 7 - Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 115

Opinions of Counsel index

Assessments, generally (cooperative assessment agreement) - General Municipal Law, Article 5-G, § 119-n; Real Property Tax Law, §§ 102(1), 576:

A county which is not an assessing unit may not enter into a cooperative assessing agreement and contract with a city, town or village located therein to do its assessing.

Cooperative agreements to assess, between various assessing units, may be entered into in accordance with section 576 of the Real Property Tax Law and Article 5-G of the General Municipal Law. Some of the matters to be considered in drafting such an agreement, under which the services of one or more assessors are shared on a cooperative basis as a “joint service” by several assessing units, are set forth in 4 Op.Counsel SBEA No. 83.

Based upon the applicable statutes, it is our opinion that a county, which is not authorized to assess real property may not enter into a cooperative assessing agreement and contract with any of the municipalities located therein to do their assessing.

Section 119-n, subdivision c, of Article 5-G of the General Municipal Law defines the term “joint service”. The subdivision limits the term to the “joint provision of any municipal facility, service, activity, project or undertaking or the joint performance or exercise of any function or power which each of the municipal corporations or districts has the power by any other general or special law to provide, perform or exercise, separately” (emphasis added). The RPTL defines an “assessing unit” as a city, town, village or a county having a county department of assessment with the power to assess real property“ (§ 102(1)). Thus, unless the assessing function has been transferred to a county (see, 3 Op. Counsel SBEA No. 79; at present, only Nassau County and Tompkins County are county assessing units)), a county is not a municipal corporation with the power to perform the assessing function. Where a county is without the power to perform the assessing function, a county could not enter into a cooperative agreement to assess.

Further support for this position is found in sections 572, 578 and 1536 of the Real Property Tax Law, which establish the county’s relationship to its assessing units with regard to the assessing function.

Section 572 allows the governing body of any county, city, town or village to employ experts to appraise the value of real property within that municipality. These experts are employed for the assistance of the assessors in the assessment of real property and to provide expert testimony in any judicial proceeding in connection therewith.

Section 578 provides for county assistance under cooperative agreements. County assistance, under this section, is limited to data processing and other mechanical assistance in the preparation of assessment rolls, tax rolls, tax bills and other assessment and property tax records and for supplies of field books, assessment rolls and other assessment and property tax forms. It seems apparent that the Legislature considered the proper role of a county under one of these agreements to be a technical or clerical one, rather than substantive or judgmental.

In addition, section 1536 (see also, 9 NYCRR Subpart 195-2) authorizes counties to provide an advisory appraisal service to cities and towns. County advisory appraisals are limited to moderately complex taxable properties, which are “properties where the appraisals require either the professional use of engineering skills or the development of earnings or economic analyses of substantial complexity.” While advisory appraisals are to be considered by city or town assessors in making assessments, they are not binding (RPTL, § 1536(6)).

Therefore, it is our conclusion that while the several cities, towns and villages within a county may enter into cooperative agreements to assess real property and may cooperatively employ assessing personnel to this end, a county may not participate directly in this arrangement. A county’s role under these circumstances is limited to general assistance (RPTL, § 578) and advisory appraisal services (RPTL, § 1536).

September 16, 1982