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Attorneys say: tax hearings behind schedule.

Attorneys say the New York City Tax Commission is behind in scheduling hearings for property owners protesting tentative assessments, and many properties will not be heard before the final roll is issued at the end of May.

While the Department of Finance sets the tentative assessments, it is the Tax Commission which conducts an administrative hearing to determine if a taxpayer has a valid case for a reduction. Many years ago, Finance assessors used to appear at every hearing to defend their assessments, however, through the years of budget tightening, this practice has changed so that assessors are present at only a very few important hearings. Finance has been supplying back up materials to the Tax Commission instead on the other properties.

Finance has changed a lot of its procedures, both last year and this year, explained Glenn Borin, counsel to the Tax Commission. "It was noticeable last year," he said, "and we did fewer hearings per day. There were some benefits for the quality of the decision and better record keeping, but we are doing a greater part of the work with our own staff."

Borin said the changes were phased-in and they are doing more work this year than last year. "We're in constant communication with the Department of Finance," he added.

Joel R. Marcus, president of the Real Estate Tax Review Bar Association and a partner in Pottish & Freyberg, said, "Various members of the bar have informed me that in a departure from the past, virtually all of the hearings currently scheduled are $20 million and over and with little if any, of the other properties.

More significantly," he said, "the $750,000 and under will be heard later in the year and will be heard too late to make it on the final roll."

Borin said he does not see a substantial difference between this year and last year. "We have all kinds of hearings going on," he said. "Some will be heard, and some won't be heard before the close of the roll."

Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, said, "It sounds to me like they're not doing what they should be doing and we'll have to figure out the ramifications."

Marcus said that any owners receiving cuts in property tax assessments after the close of the final roll in mid-May will have to pay taxes on the larger assessment, and later apply for a refund, which could take several months.

Experts say this would be terrible news for property owners who are struggling to maintain their properties and the outlay of the tax money, which could amount to approximately $37,000 or more on a half-year bill for a property assessed at $750,000, would be devastating. In the past, there have been many properties that are scheduled for summer hearings, but each year it appears that the hearings go on further into the year. Last year there were even some hearings well into September.

Eleanore Schreiner, a spokesperson for the Tax Commission, said in the past, the Department of Finance has supplied back-up materials for the Tax Commission on all properties. This year, for the first time, she said, backup materials were provided only on properties assessed at $4 million and up. Effectively, it means that a clerical function normally accomplished at the Department of Finance has been passed to the Tax Commission, she said.

Borin said their budget was increased in some areas and decreased in others. "We will accommodate this work and our new procedures are better and will work better in the long run," he said. Five new hearing officers were also hired.

While the Tax Commission had 58,000 applications for correction of tentative assessment, 53,000 hearings will be scheduled, he said, with 10,000 of those for taxpayers representing themselves, nearly double last year. Hearings for tax payers take longer than those conducted with an attorney who knows how to present a case. The 5,000 owners who will not get hearings were missing information. Approximately 2,500 did not file the Tax Commission Income and Expense form and another 1,000 did not file RPIE and will be denied hearings. There were also 600 duplicates, Borin said.

"We've taken staff reductions and the Tax Commission has increased its staff, so we feel they should be doing the analysis," said Joe Dunne, a spokesperson for the Department of Finance. "But we're still focusing on the larger cases," he added.

Spinola said "It's been traditional that the Finance Department provides this support and I hope that their differences and conflicts do not interfere with the proper functioning of their roles. We've been hearing too much that the reason things can't get done is because of the budget cuts. We have to figure out how to work within the budgets." Schreiner said hearings have already started in the borough offices for the small homeowner properties, as well as for those who are representing themselves.

Attorneys reported that they have been scheduled for certain "tri-board" hearings, while Marcus said he has heard of only one scheduled condominium, traditionally among the first properties heard.

Isaac Sherman, a certiorari partner with Moroze, Sherman, Gordon & Gordon, P.C. said "Nobody has disclosed why [the hearings are behind] and we are rather concerned and so are our clients because very few cases will be resolved for the final assessment roll."

Sherman said if there is a delay in resolving cases, it will build up the city's liability to refund money to owners. "Every time you settle the cases it rejuggles the roll," he said, but if the cases are settled before the final roll, there is no impact.

The Tax Commission also needs a reliable sampling of cases in all assessment ranges to accurately predict the refund liability for the City's budget process.

Sherman reported that his office has been scheduled for hearings on the $20 million and up assessments and has received some calendars, which list properties to be heard together. "We had calendars on the $4 million and up two weeks ago," he said, "and last week we got calendars on zero to $750,000 -- and those were typically heard early. They haven't even given us calendar pages for the condos yet. The fact that we get calendar pages, doesn't mean we're scheduled," he added.

Marcus said it appears that the big properties are on schedule and the little ones are delayed. "They are working very hard but not many will appear on the roll," he said.

Sherman added, "We hope they get their act together."
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Title Annotation:tax assessment hearings
Author:Weiss, Lois
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Apr 15, 1992
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