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GENERAL WORK OF THE TAX COMMISSION In addition to the activities heretofore noted, the statute places with the State Tax Commission various other duties of a more general nature. On its administration of these duties the commission further reports as follows:
STATE Tax CONFERENCE In pursuit of its policy of promoting co-operation wherever possible between the local assessors and the department, the commission, pursuant to the provisions of section 171-b of the tax law, summoned all city and town assessors, and also invited all village assessors and supervisors to a conference in the city of Albany on January 12 and 13, 1916. The purpose of this conference was to consider matters relative to taxation, to secure uniformity of valuation throughout the state, and to discuss and formulate desirable changes in the tax law. Over 1,500 assessors and approximately 200 county officials and others were present. Each session was attended by approximately 2,000 men. In the opinion of the commission the first state tax conference of assessors was abundantly justified. It has accomplished and will accomplish much for the better administration of the tax law throughout the state.
COUNTY VISITATIONS Section 173 of the tax law requires the commission to visit officially every county in the state at least once in two years to inquire into methods of assessment and taxation, and to ascertain whether the assessors faithfully discharge their duties, particularly with reference to the statutory requirement that real and personal property not exempt from taxation shall be assessed at full value. These visitations are, in practice, supplemental to the state tax conference. The conference is held before the field work of the assessor begins, and is intended to give him an opportunity to gain information regarding the performance of his duties in the field work which immediately follows. The county visitations are held after the field work is done. Their purpose is to see how this work has been done, to inquire into the methods of assessment and to ascertain whether the assessors are faithfully discharging their duties. Pursuant to this statutory requirement the commission visited thirty counties during the year 1916. At most of these meetings the attendance was gratifying. Sections of the tax law relating to the assessment of property were explained, many problems before the assessors were discussed, and instructions were given relating to the preparation of assessment-rolls. At these meetings a question box is conducted and the character of the questions asked has well reflected the attitude of assessors toward their work.
In each tax district in the counties assessors are required to furnish lists of sales of real property in their respective districts. While in many instances these sales were not of much value, the quality of these lists is improving and much valuable information was gained from them during the present year.
EQUALIZATION APPEALS AND REVIEWS At the date of the last report there were pending and undetermined appeals by the city of Buffalo against the towns of Erie county for the years 1911, 1912, 1913 and 1915. Also an appeal by the towns of Cheektowaga, Evans and Tonawanda from the equalization made by the board of supervisors in Erie county in 1915. Pursuant to a resolution unanimously adopted by the board of supervisors of Erie county, to which reference was made in a former report, the bureau of local assessment, equalization and statistics of this department made an extensive examination of tax conditions in the several tax districts of Erie county. The results of this investigation, together with the tabulation of the sales of real estate made in those tax districts since the first day of December, 1914, and a tabulation of sales covering the years 1911, 1912 and 1913 were presented to the commission and duly considered, and such other data as was on file in the department was also reviewed. On the 29th day of November, 1916, the commission made an order sustaining the three appeals taken by the city of Buffalo for the years 1911, 1912 and 1913, but dismissing the appeal taken by said city from the 1915 equalization. The appeals by the town of Cheektowaga, Evans and Tonawanda from the equalization of 1915 were also sustained. The decisions and orders in these cases have been duly certified to the board of supervisors of said county and to the appellant tax districts in accordance with the statute, and have been finally closed on the books of the department.
The town of Eden in Erie county has, however, obtained a writ of certiorari to review the determination of the commission made upon the appeals for the years 1911, 1912, 1913 and 1915, and this certiorari is now pending.
The appeal by the town of Hancock taken from the equalization made by the board of supervisors of Delaware county in 1915 has been heard and the decision therein was duly made and certified by the State Tax Commission on the 9th day of November, 1916. The appeal by said town of Hancock was sustained and no writ of certiorari has yet been taken out to review the same.
In Niagara county the review of the equalization made by the board of said county in 1915, which was instituted by the towns of Cambria, Hartland, Lewiston, Newfane, Porter, Somerset, Wilson and Lockport, pursuant to the provisions of section 176-a, has also been heard and decided and the results certified to said county as provided by the statute. This decision was certified to the supervisors of Niagara county on the 7th day of December, 1916, the decision being generally favorable to the contesting towns. This is the first case tried under the new section 176-a.
When this commission assumed office on the 15th day of April 1915, there were then pending and undetermined thirteen appeals from equalization of boards of supervisors, involving seven counties. All of these have now been disposed of, together with the appeals taken since then, and there are no appeals or reviews under section 176-a now pending. The commission has determined that all such appeals and reviews must be heard and determined within the year following the equalization complained of, and this practice will be followed in the future. It is only in this way that substantial justice can be done, for the reason that it is quite impossible to ascertain with any sort of certainty, assessment conditions and ratios of assessed to the true value of property when several years have elapsed since the equalization complained of was made.
ASSESSMENT Maps Section 30 of the tax law permits any city or town to establish a tax map for assessment purposes, and such map must be approved by the State Tax Commission. Other statutory provisions permit the cities and towns of Westchester county to prepare assessment maps to be approved by the State Tax Commission. Upon the presentation of such map it is examined by the commission to see that it complies with the law. During the year 1916 tax maps have been submitted to the commission and approved as follows:
City of Saratoga Springs Up to the present time seventeen maps have been submitted to the commission and have been approved.
County EQUALIZATIONS Section 50 of the tax law sets forth very precisely the rule to be used in the equalization of assessments between the towns of a county. As the law was found not to apply to the counties having commissioners on equalization, the commission issued an order of date May 17, 1915, requiring all such commissioners to comply with the statutory requirements. The Legislature of 1916 made this requirement statutory by an amendment to section 52 of the Tax Law. During or prior to the year 1916 the following counties had authorized commissioners on equalization either under the general tax law or by special act: Columbia
The appointment of these commissions marks a step forward in the quality of county equalization, but the commission feels that the ultimate solution of the difficulties involved in county equalization will be found only by the adoption of the county assessment system when constitutional amendment will permit of it.
PUBLICATIONS In addition to the circulars issued in the regular course of business, the department has established an official publication known as the New York State Tax Bulletin. The object of the state tax bulletin is to make known to the tax officials of the state proposed changes of policy, and explanations of changes in the tax law and in procedure thereunder; to publish questions submitted by assessors and other tax officials, together with the department answers to the same; to bring to the attention of tax officials throughout the state important decisions of the courts upon tax law, opinions of the attorney-general on tax questions submitted to him, and decisions and rulings of the State Tax Commission on questions of tax law and procedure; to stimulate intercommunication between groups of assessors in different parts of the state who have common problems to solve; to disseminate information of particular activities in localities, and of the forms of statute and administrative detail through which those activities are being developed; to promote suggestion and criticism between assessors and tax officials, and to record and circulate the same for the general mutual advantage of all; to provide a medium through which assessors may be advised accurately of whatever is going on in other parts of the state that would be helpful to them from a tax man's standpoint; and to establish a regular medium of communication between local assessors and the State Tax Commission, to the end that the interchange of ideas, suggestions and necessary information may be facilitated, and the contents of which should be reliable and helpful to all those who are engaged in the administrative work of the tax law in the state of New York.
The first issue of the New York State Tax Bulletin was published in February, 1916 and contained the questions deposited in the question box at the first state conference of local assessors with answers to the same. A copy was mailed to every assessor in the state, and as the questions had been submitted mainly by the assessors themselves they were found to be of practical value. The material in this bulletin having been prepared in question and answer form is available to the student without special effort and the popular demand for it has been large.