OLR Research Report

June 12, 1998 98-R-0660

FROM: John Rappa, Principal Analyst

RE: History of Connecticut's Boroughs

You wanted to know how Connecticut's boroughs evolved, whether they were established by special act, and if these acts predate the statutes governing special districts.

The state's boroughs evolved in the late 1800s to meet the special needs of small, densely populated sections of large mostly rural towns. The legislature created the boroughs by special act on behalf of the people residing in those sections. As the towns grew and lost their rural character, other sections within them developed similar needs. Instead of creating more boroughs providing similar services, the legislature allowed the existing boroughs to consolidate with the towns under special charters. Cities also evolved for the same reasons during this period, but over larger areas, and they too, with the exception of Groton, were eventually consolidated with their towns (Patricia Stuart, Units of Local Government in Connecticut, 1979).

All of the state's eight boroughs operate under special act charters, which can be amended under the home rule statutes. New boroughs would also have to be established by special act, since the law does not allow residents to establish them on their own. The eight boroughs are the Woodmont Association in Milford, Bantam and Litchfield in Litchfield, Danielson in Killingly, Fenwick in Old Saybrook, Jewett City in Griswold, Newtown in Newtown, and Stonington in Stonington.

The warden is the chief elected official of the borough and the board of warden and burgesses its legislative body. Most of the boroughs also elect a borough clerk, treasurer, tax collector, and bailiff at special borough elections, which are usually held in May. Voters, and in some boroughs property owners, approve the mill rate and the budget at the annual borough meeting.

Boroughs levy property taxes and use the revenue to provide a range of services, except education. They construct and maintain streets, provide police and fire protection, and health and sanitation services. They can also regulate building lines and the installation of sidewalks, curbs, and crosswalks. Boroughs can also abate nuisances and exercise other powers delegated to them under the statutes.

Special districts also evolved during the late 1800s to meet the peculiar needs of residents in certain areas. Like boroughs, the districts pay for the services by levying property taxes. Districts formed before 1957 operate under special acts, which can be amended under the home rule statutes. Those formed after that date were formed under statutory provisions, which specify districts' powers, duties, governance, and formation and termination procedures. The districts provide a wide range of services, including fire protection, flood and erosion control, and garbage collection. No one knows the exact number of districts, since they do not have to report to the state. The Connecticut Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations counted 258 in 1988, which appears to be the last time anyone systematically studied the state's special districts.