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Volume 9 - Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 118

Opinions of Counsel index

Conflict of interest (County Director of Real Property Tax Services performing revaluation of town in adjoining county) - Real Property Tax Law, § 1532:

Absent a provision in the county or town code of ethics, a conflict of interest does not arise when a county director of real property tax services contracts, as an individual, to perform a revaluation of a town in an adjoining county.

Our opinion has been requested {*} as to whether it would constitute a conflict of interest for a County Director of Real Property Tax Services to contract, as an individual, to perform a revaluation of a town in an adjoining county. A portion of that town is within a school district which extends into the Director’s home county.

In Opinion 88-48, the Attorney General stated:

The development of ethics standards to define when private employment is in conflict with the official duties of a local government officer or employee has been left to the governing body of the municipality (General Municipal Law, § 806[1]). Governing bodies of a county, city, town, village and school district are required to adopt a code of ethics, which must prohibit conduct in violation of ethics standards (ibid.). Local governments are authorized to establish boards of ethics, which render advisory opinions to local officers and employees concerning compliance with standards established by codes of ethics (id. § 808).

In the above-quoted opinion, the Attorney General concluded that it was a conflict of interest for a county real property appraisal technician to undertake private sector appraisal work involving the representation of persons challenging their assessments in assessing units in which he or she exercises official duties. Here, it would be unlikely that a County Director would represent persons challenging their assessments, since in all likelihood, it would be the Director’s work product that would be the subject of any taxpayer challenge.

In 6 Op.Counsel SBEA No. 39, we concluded that the offices of County Director of Real Property Tax Services and Assessor (within that county) are incompatible. However, here, a distinction must be made since the work will be done in a different county and the County Director has not assumed the role of Assessor. Rather, he has contracted to do a revaluation, which is appraisal work. In addition, the appraisals, if used for assessment purposes, will be used in another county. The Director’s work product (suggested values) would not necessarily be the assessed values ultimately placed on the assessment roll, since the Town Assessor retains the sole right to make such determinations (RPTL, § 572; Lessen v. Stevens, 30 A.D.2d 740,291 N.Y.S.2d 202 (3d Dept. 1968); Samuels v. Town of Clarkson, 91 A.D.2d 837, 458 N.Y.S.2d 393 (4th Dept. 1982); 1 Op.Counsel SBEA No. 39).

Furthermore, we do not believe that there is a conflict in the fact that assessed values, presumably based on the Director’s work, will be used in the levy of school taxes. RPTL, section 1314, provides for the equalization of school taxes using the applicable State equalization rates (or special equalization rates) established by the State Board (9 NYCRR 186-2; 186-3) for the respective assessing units within the school district. Therefore, no bias or prejudice would occur as a result of the County Director performing this appraisal work, since the equalization process is designed to do just what the term implies, that is, “equalize”.

Accordingly, we conclude that no conflict of interest exists in this situation, there being no “direct clash between” the Director’s “personal interests and his public duties and responsibilities” (O’Malley v. Macejka, 44 N.Y.2d 530, 533, 378 N.E.2d 88,406 N.Y.S.2d 725, 725 (1978)).

November 19, 1990

{*}  For many years, it has been the policy of the New York State Division of Equalization and Assessment to refer all questions concerning a potential conflict of interest to the New York State Attorney General. In the present case, the Attorney General declined to offer an opinion on the stated facts and referred the matter back to us for our review and opinion.