New York State’s Office of Real Property Tax Services describes ours as the most complex property tax system in the nation. Constitutional reform that creates regular and uniform assessments, and consolidates the assessment function under the counties' administration would simplify the tax code, create efficiencies, save money, and prevent lawsuits.
Currently the function of assessment for property tax lies with cities, towns and (sometimes) villages, creating a patchwork of inequitable assessment practices that do not necessarily occur at regular intervals, and with little transparency. Under the current constitution, assessment is the purview of these localities, with little state regulation. A change to the constitution could institute a uniform system of property tax assessment that is both equitable, and transparent.
In a simple equation explaining property tax, the taxes collected would equal the rate of the levy times the base. While the property tax cap seeks to control taxes through limiting the increase in the levy, assessment determines the size of the base.
As the property tax burden continues to rise to a level that is very burdensome (and sometimes overwhelming) to many homeowners, and detrimental to local businesses, these taxes remain essential to financing the core functioning of local governments and schools. Efforts are already being made throughout the state to establish a more uniform standard of assessment. The Real Property Tax Administration Committee (RPTAC), made up of representatives of the New York State Assessors Association, the New York State Association of Directors of Real Property Tax Services, and the Office of Real Property Tax Services joined in a set of recommendations to the State Board of appropriate Uniform Assessment Standards. According to the committee, uniform standards would establish “equitable” and “transparent” assessments by ensuring that all properties are assessed at full market value and creating a tax system that is easily understood and accessible by taxpayers.
New York State’s Office of Real Property Tax Services describes ours as the most complex property tax system in the nation. In all counties but Nassau and Tompkins, assessment is a city, town and/or village function. Thus, while most states have fewer than 100 assessing units, New York has 1,100. Of these, 88% had appointed assessors in 2010 and 12% elected assessors. New York State law requires that assessments are to be made at a uniform percentage of market value each year. However, this applies only to “each assessing unit”, leaving room for large discrepancies in property tax rates from municipality to municipality. Moreover, the multiplicity of types of local governments that rely on the real property tax, combined with non-coterminality of the boundaries of taxing and assessing units, requires a major state equalization effort to assure as much fairness as possible in the distribution of the tax burden. Nonetheless, disparities in tax treatment among property classes continue to widen. In 2011, the Council of State Taxation, a business supported group, ranked New York State worst in the nation in property tax administration.
Furthermore, at a time when property values have been declining, still in some jurisdictions - New York City, for example - tax assessments have continued to rise. This means that despite spending caps, and no tax rate raises, the taxpayer's taxes may still be rising.
(2) Shall have the power to act in relation to the property, affairs or government of any local government only by general law, or by special law only (a) on request of two-thirds of the total membership of its legislative body or on request of its chief executive officer concurred in by a majority of such membership, or (b) except in the case of the city of New York, on certificate of necessity from the governor reciting facts which in the judgment of the governor constitute an emergency requiring enactment of such law and, in such latter case, with the concurrence of two-thirds of the members elected to each house of the legislature.
[Assessments for taxation purposes]
§2. The legislature shall provide for the supervision, review and equalization of assessments for purposes of taxation. Assessments shall in no case exceed full value.
Nothing in this constitution shall be deemed to prevent the legislature from providing for the assessment, levy and collection of village taxes by the taxing authorities of those subdivisions of the state in which the lands comprising the respective villages are located, nor from providing that the respective counties of the state may loan or advance to any village located in whole or in part within such county the amount of any tax which shall have been levied for village purposes upon any lands located within such county and remaining unpaid.