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and cable line property within the three mile limit on the coast as special franchises.
ASSISTANCE TO CITY, TOWN AND VILLAGE ATTORNEYS Throughout the year 1916, the law division has been called on for advice by the attorneys of various municipalities, and also has received requests for its active co-operation in local certiorari proceedings. So far as assistance might be extended in an advisory capacity, the division has gladly given it. The impossibility of entering actively into local tax litigation, however, is manifest.
CARD INDEX DIGEST OF Tax LAW AND COURT DECISIONS Plans have been formulated for equipping the tax department with an authoritative card index digest of the tax law of the state. Every section of the tax law will be traced to its source and the court interpretations digested.
SUMMARY OF RESULTS The advances made this year by the law division are marked. The reorganization of the division, upon appointment of new counsel in January, resulted in equipment and library facilities of the highest type with corresponding increase in efficiency. The number of amendments to the tax law in 1916 was more than in any preceding year. Much assistance was rendered by the law division to the legislature and the governor. A start has been made in the preparation of a reliable card index digest of the tax law, including a comprehensive analysis of all court decisions. And finally the commission's 1916 edition of the tax law makes available for the first time to public officials the entire body of legislation on the subject of taxation in this state.
C. THE BUREAU OF LOCAL ASSESSMENT, EQUALIZATION AND
STATISTICS The chief function of the bureau of local assessment, equalization and statistics is to gather information relative to methods of local assessment in all the tax districts of the state. This bureau also seeks information relative to county equalization and collects and collates statistics relative to taxation.
This bureau was not fully organized for work until the beginning of the present year.
The deputy commissioner in charge of the bureau did not assume the duties of his position until June 1, 1915. With two or three exceptions, his only assistants in the work to the end of that year were special agents serving under temporary appointments. All but two of these appointees failed to qualify in the civil service examination held late in the year 1915 and permanent appointments were not made until the first of the present year. The year 1916, therefore, is the first year in which the work has been done along definite lines, with definite purposes in view and with a full staff of permanent employees.
The results of the work of the bureau in the field and with local assessing officials for this year show interesting results.
Since January 1, 1915, the bureau has made detailed personal
In all, 43 counties, 756 towns, 363 incorporated villages and 51 cities; a total of 1,213 districts.
Upon each investigation, our special agents personally examined the records in the county clerk's office and compiled therefrom lists of transfers of real property in which are set forth for each trans
date of record of the deed; a brief description of the property conveyed; the consideration; the amount of the mortgage, if any, and the amount of tax paid under the U. S. internal law when the deed was recorded. The assessment-rolls of each tax district were examined and the assessed value of each parcel conveyed is entered in the list. Not all sales recorded were included in the calculations to determine the ratio which the assessed value bears to the full consideration of property transferred. Unless the true and fair consideration could be procured, there were eliminated all sales by referees or so-called “ forced sales," all sales of portions of larger parcels and all sales of properties which were not fairly representative of other properties throughout the tax district.
When inspecting the assessment-rolls, irregularities and illegalities, if any, were noted and brought to the attention of the assessors who prepared them. At the same time, assessors were instructed how to prepare the roll in a proper and legal manner.
Through the courtesy of the State Banking Department and the State Insurance Department our bureau has procured valuable information regarding loans upon real property by banking institutions, building and loan associations and insurance companies doing business in this state. In cities and larger villages much valuable information has also been procured regarding property values from local building departments, real estate dealers and builders.
That these investigations have been thorough and that the conclusions based on them are substantially correct, may be inferred from the fact that the comptroller of the city of New York recently investigated nine of the counties which we had previously examined and the results of his investigations were practically the same as those at which our investigators had arrived, though there had been neither conference nor co-operation between the two. Further evidence of the correctness of the conclusions reached hy the bureau is the fact that the attorneys for about twenty corporations in the city of Buffalo, and the city itself through its corporation counsel, announced to the commission at a public hearing before it that they accepted the rate at which the commission equalized special franchise properties in that city in 1915, a rate adopted as the result of this hureau's investigation of that city.
All the information procured has been made available to local assessors and was furnished to the state board of equalization. While the bureau regrets that the state board of equalization did not adopt the rates suggested, it is gratifying that no evidence was produced by or to the state board which indicated even a single error in the information, calculations or conclusions submitted.
While a great deal of good has been accomplished through these investigations by procuring reliable information and furnishing it to local assessors, probably the greatest amount of good has been accomplished by work done with local assessors to arouse in them the desire to do better work. In many cases this has taxed the time, energy and patience of the department, but the results attained give assurance that this work had a large measure of success.
Another evidence of the enthusiasm and interest in their work which has been aroused in local assessors is the formation of county assessors' associations. These associations have been organized in several counties and are in the process of formation in other counties. It is believed that much good will result from these associations, because it will secure the united, earnest and uniform effort of all the assessors in a county. The lack of uniformity of method in the past has probably done more than anything else to retard progress in the local assessment of property.
For the first time this year the bureau has examined about 35,000 reports of incorporated companies filed with the corporation tax bureau of the tax department and has transferred therefrom to cards the stated values of real and personal property and the location of the same. These cards have been arranged and filed by tax districts, and it is proposed to transmit this information to the assessors of the tax districts where the property is liable to taxation.
At the instance of this bureau and as the result of undervaluations and inequalities in assessments disclosed by our investigations, proceedings have been instituted in the supreme court under section 173-a of the tax law, to require the assessors of the city of Port Jervis, Orange county, and the assessors of the town of Hunter, Greene county, to correct the assessment-rolls of their
been halted by the serious illness of the city attorney. The town of Hunter case has been retarded by the interposition of an appeal by the defendant from the order denying a motion to dismiss on technical grounds. Similar proceedings appear to be warranted in other tax districts. The small number of special agents available for this work has made it impossible up to the present time for us to make the necessary preparation for more than the two cases mentioned.
During the last three months of the present year, the bureau has made special effort and has spent considerable time in advising with county equalization committees and commissions regarding their work in equalizing assessments between the several towns and cities in their respective counties. So far as possible, our special agents have worked in person with such committees. In nearly every county in which equalization tables of former years have not been prepared in accordance with the requirements of the statute and in which property values therefore have not been equalized fairly, equitably and at the true rate at which property was actually assessed, equalization officials sought to explain their acts by declaring themselves unable to procure necessary facts to secure proper equalization. This bureau has furnished them with all its data regarding assessments of property in their respective counties and has aided them, so far as possible, in procuring such other information as they deemed necessary. While reports of county equalizations now coming to us show general improvement over previous years, the boards of supervisors and equalization committees thereof of the counties of Erie, Niagara, Schenectady and Washington deserve special mention for the efficient work which they did this year. In each of these counties the assessed values of real property were fairly equalized in 1916. The same statement may properly be applied to some of the other counties.
The bureau has also given special attention to the assessment of the value of stock of state and national banking institutions under section 24 of the tax law. Although this law specifically requires an assessment equal to the sum of the capital, surplus and undivided profits, it was found that in 1915 in many tax districts the assessment equalled the amount of the capital alone and that no assessment was made against the amount of the surplus and undivided