by Edwin D. Reilly, Jr.
for the Sunday Gazette
“The best way to make sure that our whole county enjoys the benefits of 100% assessment with a low COD [coefficient of dispersion] is through use of a well-funded county assessing unit. This is the consolidation step that most needs to be taken. We’d still need the current assessors; the savings would come from the economy of scale that would obtain whenever an updated countywide reassessment is deemed necessary.”
-EDR Sunday Gazette op ed of 7/11/2004
“If ever a service provided by local government was a logical candidate for consolidation with other governments, it is in the area of real property assessment.”
-Sunday Gazette editorial of 3/23/2008
Since my op ed piece of almost four years
ago, great progress has been
made with regard to uniformity of assessment practices, though not
consolidation thereof, in
Assessment by counties rather than by
their constituent municipalities is the norm in most other states, but
certainly not here in New York where only two of our 62 counties do
Long Island and Tomkins in the Finger Lakes region. County-wide
involves complete consolidation of the assessment function at the
with elimination of municipal assessing units and assessment rolls.
requires a corresponding county-wide referendum, one called through
action of a
county legislature. In counties such as
Though former Governor Eliot Spitzer
strongly supported consolidation and provided grant support to counties
to consider the reform, the New York State Assessors Association, Inc.,
continues to oppose the change; see
And even though consolidated
assessment would cost less than the
aggregate sum of what a county’s constituent municipalities are
paying, cash-strapped counties are reluctant to assume an added burden
would raise their own tax rates. Unless a formula could be agreed upon
the cost back to its satellites—so much per parcel, perhaps—a
not be inclined to support the needed referendum.
Currently, when town residents fail to
pay January taxes or September school taxes, their county makes the
town or school
district whole by accepting less than their full levy. Back taxes are
paid, with penalty, to the county, and it is the county that will
take title to properties that remain delinquent for some extended
period. Not so for city residents, however. The city has to get along
delinquent taxes, but then gets to take possession in due course if
not paid. I don’t know why cities prefer things this way, but
are reluctant to seek the legislative initiative that would change
if assessment is consolidated, I assume that the differing collection
property appropriation practices would have to be also.
One final reservation: A town or city can be hurt very badly if a large ratable receives a substantial reduction in assessment through legal action. Suppose, for example, that a municipality’s largest commercial business has an assessment that is, say, 20% of its entire levy, and the petition is made that it be halved. This would entail loss of 10% of the value of the entire roll, but, perhaps, only 2% of the county’s tax roll. Which would fight harder to defend against the reduction, the town or the county? Well, the town, of course, but on the other hand, the county would have the greater resources to mount a successful defense.
None of all this should be read to mean that I have lost the zest for assessment consolidation. But I thought it would be useful to explain why, after years of discussion, only two of our counties have succeeded in the endeavor.
Edwin D. Reilly, Jr. lives in