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Volume 9 - Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 123

Opinions of Counsel index

Assessment roll (public inspection) (electronic data processing) - Real Property Tax Law, §§ 516, 1582:

A town need not produce a paper copy of its final assessment roll for public inspection if an electronic version of the final assessment roll is accessible, provided that there are a sufficient number of machines to ensure ready public access, and that staff is available to assist the public in the use of those machines.

We have been advised that the notice of the filing of a town’s 1993 final assessment roll was published on July 1, 1993, but that a certified copy of that roll was not available for public inspection in the office of the town clerk on that date and was still not available as of July 14, 1993. The concern has been expressed that this situation compromises taxpayers who may wish to commence proceedings for review of their assessments.

Real Property Tax Law (RPTL), section 516, requires the assessor to deliver the final assessment roll to the clerk of the county legislative body and to file a certified copy in the office of the city or town clerk on or before the first day of July. The purpose of the latter requirement is to allow property owners and other interested citizens the opportunity to inspect the roll.

The Assessor has advised our staff that the town compiles its assessment and tax rolls on a computer and that the final assessment roll was available as of July 1, 1993 on ten computer terminals accessible to the public. She also stated that several members of her staff were in attendance to assist persons who were unfamiliar with the system.

In 1981, the New York Legislature, finding that “many municipalities now employ electronic data processing equipment in their administration of the real property tax,” enacted Article 15-C of the Real Property Tax Law. The purpose of this Article was to modify longstanding statutory provisions which served as impediments to the use of modern technology because they were based on the assumption that assessment and tax rolls were prepared manually. At the same time the Legislature sought to preserve the substance of the law in regard to public access (RPTL, § 1580).

In particular, section 1582 provides that, while assessment rolls may be prepared by means of electronic data processing,

[i]f an assessment roll or tax roll is machine readable only, the office in which that roll is filed must have a sufficient number of machines to ensure ready public access and the staff to assist the public in use of the machines, whenever the roll is required by law to be available for public inspection.

It appears that the town has fulfilled the criteria laid down by RPTL, section 1582. Thus the town is not required to file a “hard” copy (e.g., paper) of the roll. Subdivision 2 of section 1582 permits the delivery of a data file in lieu of a document as long as the person or body responsible for the delivery of an assessment roll and the recipient thereof agree to this mode of delivery. That is, RPTL, section 1582, modifies RPTL, section 516, to the extent of permitting the final assessment roll to be delivered to the city or town clerk in electronic form, provided the latter agrees. Under RPTL, section 1584, the certification which is required to be attached to the assessment roll is valid “if the document is filed at the time required by law and kept with the assessment roll or tax roll.”

January 18, 1994