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Volume 8 - Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 113

Opinions of Counsel index

Agricultural exemption (conversion) (penalties-enforcement) - Agriculture and Markets Law, § 306; Real Property Tax Law, § 1000:

The collection of penalties and rollback taxes for conversion of farmland receiving an agricultural exemption may be enforced in the same way as delinquent municipal and school taxes.

We are asked whether the collection of penalties imposed for the conversion of committed lands pursuant to section 306(2) of the Agriculture and Markets Law (Article 25AA of the Agriculture and Markets Law) may be enforced by a tax sale in the same way that collection of delinquent municipal and school taxes is enforced. For the reasons that follow, we believe that they may.

Land which is not located within an agricultural district, but which qualifies as “land used in agricultural production” pursuant to section 301(3) of the Agriculture and Markets Law may receive the benefit of an agricultural value assessment if such land is annually committed to continued agricultural use for the next eight years (Agriculture and Markets Law, § 306(1)). Where the agricultural value ceiling applied to qualifying land is less than its assessed value, the difference is exempt from real property taxation (Agriculture and Markets Law, § 305).

A conversion of any part of the committed land will render all of the land subject to the commitment liable for conversion penalties equaling two times the taxes payable in the year following the conversion without the benefit of the agricultural value assessment (Agriculture and Markets Law, § 306(2)). The conversion penalty is a compensation for prior benefits for the agricultural value assessment (Id.). Section 306(2) further provides that “[t]his amount shall be added by the local taxing jurisdiction to the taxes determined for that year and when levied shall become a tax lien on such land.”

In most towns, taxes become a lien on property as of the first day of January of the fiscal year for which they are levied and remain a lien until paid (RPTL, § 902). When taxes which have become a lien remain unpaid, the county treasurer may, after a specified period of time, enforce the collection of delinquent taxes by means of a tax sale (RPTL, § 1000).

Although the Agriculture and Markets Law makes no reference to how the tax lien for conversion penalties shall be enforced, accepted rules of statutory construction require that laws relating to the same group of persons or things be construed, if possible, as though forming part of the same statute, so that their application is harmonious and consistent (North Eastern Fruit Council v. State Board of Equalization and Assessment, 124 Misc.2d 67, 69, 475 N.Y.S.2d 1010, 1012, aff’d, 115 A.D.2d 139, 495 N.Y.S.2d 925 (3d Dept. 1985), mot. for lv. to app. den., 67 N.Y.2d 603 (February 13, 1986)). The Agricultural Districts Law relates to the general scheme of real property taxation which is mainly addressed by the RPTL. Enforcement of tax liens is effected through the procedures set forth in the RPTL with local variations (RPTL, Articles 10, 11). We believe the same procedures would apply to a tax lien created by section 306(2) of the Agriculture and Markets Law.

Therefore, it is our opinion that the collection of conversion penalties imposed pursuant to section 306(2) of the Agriculture and Markets Law may be enforced through a tax sale.

April 21, 1986