“The times they are a-changin’”. In our field, this is best evidenced by upstate New York counties taking an active roll in defending property tax assessment appeals. Although counties in upstate New York have no assessment function and generally are responsible for only a fraction of any property tax refunds owed, lately it seems as though counties feel like they have been hung out to dry (or so they say) by assessing units and intervening school districts around the settlement table.
Typically, until recently, counties either relied upon the town/district to protect their interests or simply did not care to get involved because of the low risk of refunds. Instead, school districts were more apt to get involved in property tax assessment appeals cases because traditionally school districts had the most to lose by way of tax refunds.
However, that has all changed because it seems that towns and school districts may not be protecting the counties’ interests after all. For instance, without active intervention by the county, many times petitioners have agreed to waive the town and/or school district refunds, but not county refunds. Since the county did not pay attorneys’ fees, share in expert fees or lend support to the case, school district and town attorneys feel justified to act this way. This is exactly what happened in Erie County not too long ago (about 2002). As a result, Erie County might be intervening in cases going forward - and word on the street is that they are not the only one.
Most assessors, county real property directors and respondents’ attorneys would probably agree that any litigation support is welcome; that a united front might help assessment equity issues and prevent lawsuits; and that a joint services arrangement to share costs and consolidate efforts by retaining a single attorney to represent all respondents means lower attorneys fees and expenses for all parties.
On the other hand, there is the potential for conflicts of interest to arise between the respondents, and you know what they say about too many cooks in the kitchen. Some are afraid the move may result in longer delays and more complex settlements, or worse, result in political maneuvering that in the end costs more than its worth.
Only time will tell what having yet another party to deal with in property tax appeals will mean.