Attorney General: Mr. Donald A. Kirshbaum, Bridgeport Financial Review Board, 1991-013 Formal Opinion, Attorney General of Connecticut

Attorney General's Opinion

Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal

April 5, 1991

Mr. Donald A. Kirshbaum
Executive Director
Bridgeport Financial Review Board
55 Elm Street
Hartford, CT 06106

Dear Mr. Kirshbaum:

Through you the Bridgeport Financial Review Board (hereinafter the "Board") has asked for our opinion regarding the procedure for setting the property tax rate in the city of Bridgeport (hereinafter the "city"). Specifically, you have inquired whether the City tax rate can be reset after the Board has taken action on the City's proposed annual budget which was predicated on a particular tax rate set by the City's Common Council under the provisions set for the in the City charter. Your question entails a review of 1988 Conn. Special Act No. 88-80, as amended, as it relates to the provisions of the City charter.

It is our opinion that in the event the Board rejects the City's proposed annual budget, develops and approves an interim budget, and, as a consequence, finds that the tax rate must be reset in order to achieve a balanced City budget, the tax rate may be adjusted even after a rate was set previously by the Common Council under the provisions of the City charter.

The Board was established under 1988 Conn. Special Act No. 88-80 (the "Act") as a result of the legislature's finding that a financial emergency exists in the City. The Act, 1. The Board's mission is to review the financial affairs of the City to restore financial stability to the City. Id. Toward this end, the Board was granted various powers with respect to the City in the preparation of the annual budget. 1990 Conn. Special Act No. 90-31, 7(1)(A). The Board shall audit compliance with the City's annual budget in such areas as the Board shall determine. Id. 7(2)(B). Modifications to annual budgets must be approved by the Board. Id. 8(b). The Board's existence shall terminate six months after the end of the emergency period.1 1990 Conn. Special Act No. 90-31, 16.

Section 11(b) of the Act as amended by Section 8 of 1990 Conn. Special Act No. 90-31 sets forth the budget adoption process for the City during the emergency period

(3) NOT LATER THAN FORTY DAYS PRIOR TO THE COMMENCEMENT OF EACH FISCAL YEAR DURING THE EMERGENCY PERIOD, THE MAYOR SHALL SUBMIT TO THE BOARD THE GENERAL FUND AND CAPITAL FUND BUDGETS OF THE CITY AS ADOPTED BY THE COMMON COUNCIL AND APPROVED BY THE MAYOR PURSUANT TO THE CITY CHARTER, THE BUDGET OF THE WATER POLLUTION CONTROL AUTHORITY FUND AS APPROVED BY SUCH AUTHORITY AND THE BUDGET OF THE SPECIAL REVENUE FUND . WITHIN FIFTEEN DAYS OF SUCH SUBMISSION, THE BOARD SHALL EITHER APPROVE OR REJECT SUCH BUDGETS . . .IF THE BOARD REJECTS ANY OF SUCH BUDGETS, THE BOARD SHALL, WITHIN FIFTEEN DAYS DEVELOP AND APPROVE AN INTERIM BUDGET FOR THE CITY IN THE PLACE OF ANY BUDGET SO REJECTED. SUCH INTERIM BUDGET SHALL TAKE EFFECT AT THE COMMENCEMENT OF THE FISCAL YEAR AND SHALL REMAIN IN EFFECT UNTIL THE CITY SUBMITS AND THE BOARD APPROVES A MODIFIED BUDGET OR BUDGETS, AS THE CASE MAY BE IN THE EVENT THAT THE BOARD REJECTS THE CITY GENERAL FUND BUDGET AND DEVELOPS AND APPROVES AN INTERIM GENERAL FUND BUDGET THE CITY COUNCIL SHALL THEN SET A TAX RATE AS REQUIRED BY SUBSECTION 9C0 OF SECTION 13 OF SPECIAL ACT 88-80. AS AMENDED BY SECTION 9 [sic]2 OF THIS ACT.

(Emphasis added.)

Section 10 of Conn. Special Act 90-31 states in pertinent part:

[(c)] (b) For and with respect to each budget year, . . .the common council shall cause to be raised the said amount so required by tax upon real property liable therefore in the manner provided for the levy of city taxes.

When the immediately foregoing section uses the phrase "city taxes," it refers to taxes of the city of Bridgeport.3 Therefore, this section states that that procedure for levying taxes in Bridgeport must be followed.

Chapter 7, Section 95(d) of the City charter provides:

(d) Not later than the second Tuesday in May, the common council shall, by resolution, set a mill rate for the ensuing fiscal year, which shall, together with other sources of revenue, generate sufficient funds to support the budget adopted by the common council. Such resolution may be disapproved by the mayor in the manner set forth in subsection (e) of this section.

The foregoing charter provision sets forth the manner in which the City must levy its taxes. This charter provision may be inconsistent with sections 8 and 10 of 1990 Conn. Special Act 90-31 in one respect, i.e., the date by which the mill, or tax rate must be set. The charter requires the Common Council to set the mill rate "not later than the second Tuesday in May." It is conceivable that the process envisioned for the Board's review and possible rejection of the City budget during the emergency period could extend beyond that date. In the event the Board adopts its own interim budget in lieu of the City's and if the tax rate must be reset for the interim budget, there would be a conflict between section 95(d) of the City charter and the Act. See section 8(b)(3) of 1990 Conn. Special Act 90-31.

There are several canons of statutory construction which are applicable to this situation and which will resolve the apparent inconsistency between the Act, as amended, and the City charter which was originally adopted by the General Assembly under a special act.4 First, if state legislation clearly discloses an intent to cover a particular subject matter to the exclusion of local regulation, it preempts local laws and ordinances. State v. Welch, 36 Conn. 215, 217 (1869), was the seminal case recognizing this principle. It is our view that the legislative intent in adopting 1988 Conn. Special Act No. 88-80 was explicitly set forth in the preamble , section 1. The intent was to give the Board financial oversight of the City's fiscal condition during the emergency period. This being the case, the special act supersedes the City charter where it conflicts with the time period for setting the tax rate.

Applying other rules of construction, we arrive at the same conclusion. In Fair Haven & Westville R.R. v. New Haven, 75 Conn. 442, 446, 53 a. 960 (1903), the court stated: "Even where the two Acts are not in express terms repugnant, yet if the later one covers the whole subject of the former, and embraces new provisions plainly showing that it was intended as a substitute for the former, it will operate as a repeal of the former." Although the City's charter has been amended from time to time under the Home Rule Act, Conn. Gen. Stat. 7-187 et seq., the amended charter would be viewed by a court as an extension of the earlier special act. Griffith, Connecticut's Home Rule: The Judicial Resolution of State and Local Conflicts, 4 U. Bridgeport L.Rev. 177, 227 (1983) citing Caulfield v. Noble, 178 Conn. 81, 89-90, 420 A.2d 1160 (1979). Similarly, it has been stated that if expressions of the legislative will are irreconcilable, the latest prevails even though it is a special act. New Haven Water Co. v. North Branford, 174 Conn. 556, 565, 392 A.2d 456 (1978).

Our position is further supported by another ancillary rule of construction which the Connecticut Supreme Court first enunciated in State v. Staub, 61 Conn. 553, 23 A. 924 (1892). There the court presumed that the legislature in enacting a law, did so in view of all existing relevant statutes and intended the new act to be read with them so as to make one consistent body of law. This rule has been used by the courts to nullify the effect of local charter provision that conflict with state statutes. Beccia v. City of Waterbury, 185 Conn. 445, 458-59, 441 A.2d 131 (1981).

In conclusion, the procedure set forth in section 11(b) of the Act, as amended by section 8 of 1990 Conn. Special Act No. 90-31, supersedes the City charter to the extent they are inconsistent. Since the only apparent inconsistency between the charter and the Act's tax setting provisions is the deadline for setting the tax rate, the Act being the later provision prevails. Thus, if the Board adopts an interim budget for the City after the Common Council has set a tax rate, the rate shall be reset by the Common Council to achieve a balanced budget as developed and approved by the Board.

We trust this answers your question.

Very truly yours,

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL
ATTORNEY GENERAL

William J. Prensky
Assistant Attorney General

RB/WJP/db


1 "Emergency period" is defined for the purposes of the Act as follows:

(12) "emergency period means the period of time from the effective date of [this act] SPECIAL ACT 88-80 until such time as the board, BY RESOLUTION, determines that: (A) the results of operations for the general fund of the city shall have has cash revenues in excess of expenditures for two consecutive fiscal years: (B) the city has presented a financial plan that projects positive operating fund balances for the three years covered by such financial plan in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles and this act; [and] (C) the city has access to the public credit markets AND (D) THE AUDIT FOR THE FISCAL YEAR ENDING JUNE 30, 1993, HAS BEEN COMPLETED AND THE RESULTS OF OPERATIONS FOR THE FISCAL YEARS ENDING JUNE 30, 1992, AND JUNE 30, 1993 OR ANY TWO SUBSEQUENT FISCAL YEARS, MUST MEET THE TEST OF SUBPARAGRAPH 9A0 OF THIS SUBDIVISION . . .

1990 Conn. Special Act No. 90-31, 1.

2 Contrary to the language of section 11(b)(3) of 1990 Conn. Special Act 90-31, it is section 10 of that act which amends section 13(c) of 1988 Conn. Special Act 88-80. The 1990 amendment to section 13(c) redesignated that section as section 13(b).

3 Section 2(4) of 1988 Conn. Special Act No. 88-80 defines the term "city" for purposes of the act to mean the town and city of Bridgeport.

4 See 1 Private Laws of State of Connecticut 354, "An Act Incorporating the City of Bridgeport" (May 1836).


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