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Volume 9 - Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 89

Opinions of Counsel index

County Director of Real Property Tax Services (civil service classification of position) - Real Property Tax Law, § 1530:

The term of office of a county director is six years, even when the position is classified in the competitive class of the civil service.

We have received an inquiry concerning the classification of the office of county director of real property tax services within the civil service.

Real Property Tax Law (RPTL), section 1530, mandates that, with certain exceptions, {*} each county shall have a Real Property Tax Service Agency with a Director as its head (3 Op.Counsel SBEA No. 99). Subdivision 1 also provides that a Director is appointed for a six-year term, commencing October 1, 1971, and on October 1 of each sixth year thereafter. Subdivision 2, as originally enacted (L.1970, c.957), provided that the position should be in the “classified service, notwithstanding the provisions of subdivision (c) of section [35] of the civil service law” (section 35 of the Civil Service Law establishes the unclassified service).

Following the enactment of section 1530 of the RPTL, the State Civil Service Commission classified the County Director position in the competitive class of the classified Civil Service and an open competitive examination was held (see Civil Service Law, § 44). A judicial proceeding was commenced to set aside the classification and to enjoin the Commission from promulgating and certifying any lists resulting from such examination (Haase, et al. v. Poston et al., Sup. Ct., Albany Co. (Show Cause Order dated January 12, 1972)). Shortly thereafter, however, subdivision 2 of section 1530 was amended (L.1972, c.12) to place the position of County Director in the noncompetitive class of the civil service, except where the county legislative body determines the position to be full-time and requests that the position be placed in the competitive class (see, generally, 2 Op.Counsel SBEA No. 76).

This 1972 amendment to section 1530 contains a “savings clause” (bill § 2) which provides that the provisions of the act are “applicable to all positions of county director of real property tax services heretofore or hereafter jurisdictionally classified, except those positions heretofore classified in the competitive class and encumbered by a permanent appointment to such position.” By virtue of the 1972 enactment, then, most county director positions were placed in the non-competitive class; the only county director positions that remained in the competitive class were those which had previously been placed in the competitive class, and that was true only for so long as those positions were encumbered by a permanent appointee (see, 2 Op.Counsel SBEA No. 76).

Thus, the “savings clause” only applies to those individuals who have held county director positions in the competitive class continuously since 1971; only those individuals may claim that their positions are required by law to be in the competitive class.

As noted above, subdivision 1 of RPTL, section 1530, provides for a six-year term of office. This provision is more restrictive than the corresponding provision for the appointive office of assessor (also added by L.1970, c.957), which is a six-year term appointment (bill § 31, subd. 2) that under certain circumstances can be an indefinite term (subd. 7).

In conclusion, the position of county director is subject to the following civil service considerations:

1) Except for New York City and Nassau, Tompkins and Westchester Counties, all counties are required to establish and maintain a Real Property Tax Services agency headed by a Director.

2) Generally, the county director is appointed for a six-year term. However, where the county had made a competitive classification of a like position in 1971, and the appointee has remained continuously in office since that time, the appointee would be “covered in” by chapter 12 of the Laws of 1972, and the position would be in the competitive classification.

3) Any successor appointee will hold office in the non-competitive class unless the county legislature requests the local civil service commission or personnel officer to classify the position in the competitive class.

March 11, 1991

{*}  There is no county director of real property tax services in county assessing units (i.e., Nassau and Tompkins) or in New York City (RPTL, § 1530(1)). In Westchester, the county director’s duties are exercised by the Executive Director of the County Tax Commission (RPTL, § 1530(4)).