July 25, 2008
GROVE BEACH IMPROVEMENT ASSOCIATION
(SPECIAL TAXING DISTRICT)
By: John Rappa, Principal Analyst
You asked the following questions about the the Grove Beach Improvement Association (GBIA):
1. Were the 1950 and 1983 amendments to GBIA's special act charter made according to the statutes?
2. Can GBIA adopt ordinances providing more definition to charter sections without amending the charter?
3. Can it authorize proxy voting and assess property taxes differently than its host towns?
4. What is the procedure for dissolving GBIA?
The answer to most of these questions requires a formal legal opinion, which the Office of Legislative Research cannot give. Consequently, you should not regard this report as providing one.
GBIA CHARTER REVISIONS
GBIA's 1950 and 1983 charter revisions were neither made by the legislature nor, it appears, according to the statutory procedure for amending special act charters. We based this conclusion on the legislative history of GBIA's special act charter and the rules for amending such charters.
GBIA is a special taxing district formed under an 1895 special act of the legislature (Special Law 88, Volume XII, p. 118). That act, which became GBIA's charter, contained no provisions allowing the members to amend the charter on their own. Consequently, whenever they wanted the charter amended, they had to ask the legislature to do this, which they did in 1903 (Special Law 303, Volume XIV), 1919 (Special Law 170, Volume XVIII, p. 134), and 1927 (Special Law 292, Volume XX, p. 313). None of these amendments added provisions allowing members to amend the charter on their own.
Because the legislative record shows no amendments after 1927, the GBIA, not the legislature, apparently made the 1950 and 1983 charter amendments. But, there was no authority for GBIA to have made the 1950 amendment because the legislature did not grant such authority to special act districts until 1963 (Public Act 582). That law allowed them to amend their special act charters by following the same procedure for adopting or amending city and town charters (codified at CGS § 7-328a). Attachment 1 is an OLR report explaining the procedure (2002-R-0863).
We cannot determine if GBIA followed that procedure when it made the 1983 amendments. Doing so requires access to GBIA records and newspaper notices about mandatory public hearings.
ADOPTING ORDINANCES TO PROVIDE MORE DEFINITION TO CHARTER SECTIONS
The extent to which the GBIA board can adopt an ordinance expanding on a charter provision depends on whether that provision allows the board to adopt implementing ordinances. The charter authorized the board to adopt by-laws and regulations for regulating travel on highways during specified months; improving and cleaning ditches, beaches, and waterfronts; preventing noise; providing parking; conducting roadwork; removing debris and refuse; and planting trees and shrubs (§ 7). It also authorizes the board to adopt rules and regulations for removing garbage and maintaining the sewer system (§§ 8 and 11, respectively).
Most of GBIA's proposed ordinances deal with issues covered in other sections that do not explicitly authorize the board to adopt implementing by-laws and ordinances. Consequently, it does not appear that the charter allows the board to adopt by-laws and ordinances regarding these issues. Additionally, most of the proposed ordinances appear to be inconsistent with the charter, which serves as the association's organic law or constitution. This appears to be the case with the ordinances regarding proxy voting and property tax assessment.
PROXY VOTING AND PROPERTY TAX ASSESSMENTS
The proposed ordinances regarding proxy voting and property tax assessment appear to be inconsistent with the charter sections governing these matters. Proposed ordinance 17 assigns one vote for each dwelling unit issued a certificate of occupancy. It corresponds to Charter Section 1, which does not authorize the board to adopt ordinances implementing its provisions. More importantly, the proposed ordinance appears to be inconsistent with the charter, which assigns voting rights to property owners over 21 years.
The proposed property tax assessment ordinance (ordinance 22) corresponds to Charter Section 12, which was adopted in 1919 and amended in 1927. The charter authorizes GBIA to assess property at the values shown on the town's grand list and determine the rate at which to tax them. (The original charter allowed GBIA to charge fees for different services.) The assessment is that portion of a property's fair market value that is subject to the property tax. Connecticut law fixes the assessment at 70% of that value.
Proposed ordinance 22 specifies that “all improved properties…will have an equal assessment.” This change appears to require GBIA to assess each property for the same amount of value, not the same portion of fair market value. For example, the board could assess all property for $50,000 and apply the tax rate against that value. Consequently, the $50,000 assessment on a $150,000 condominium would equal 33% of its fair market value and that same assessment on a $300,000 home would equal 17% of its fair market value. This assessment method is different than the one the charter (and state law) prescribes.
Arguably, the GBIA could avoid the consistency problem by making these changes in the charter instead of through implementing ordinances. But doing so appears to violate the same statute that allows special taxing districts to convert their special act charters into home rule charters without forfeiting any of the powers they enjoy under the original acts and any subsequent amendments. But the law also bans them from assuming a power the law does not grant to those districts formed under the statutes instead of a special act (CGS § 7-328a). The special district statutes do not authorize proxy voting or assessment methods other than the one authorized for municipalities.
GBIA can dissolve itself on its own without having the legislature repeal GBIA's special act charter. It can do so by following the same procedure the law provides for dissolving districts formed under the statutes. (The authorization for special act districts to use that procedure is CGS § 7-324; the procedure is specified in CGS § 7-329). Attachment 2 is a report outlining the procedure (2002-R-0214).