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Volume 7 - Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 82

Opinions of Counsel index

Assessors, Board of (chairman - appointment of) (town board delegation) - Real Property Tax Law, §§ 102(3), 1556; Town Law, § 22-b:

A town board may delegate its power to choose a chairman of the board of assessors to the board of assessors.

A Town has retained a three member elected Board of Assessors (Real Property Tax Law, §§ 102(3), 1556). With the exception of 1978, the Town Board has adopted resolutions annually since 1971 authorizing the Board of Assessors to elect its own Chairman. In 1978, however, the Town Board designated a Chairman. We are asked whether the Town Board may delegate its responsibility to choose a chairman of the Board of Assessors and whether its designation of a chairman in 1978 would affect the right to delegate the choice of a chairman in future years.

Section 22-b of the Town Law provides, in part, that “The town board of any town having more than one assessor may establish the office of chairman of town assessors and at its first meeting in each year designate one of such assessors to be chairman until the first day of January next succeeding such designation.” In 7 Op. Counsel SBEA No. 51, we concluded that section 22-b meant that a board of assessors could not, at its own initiative, appoint a chairman of their board.

While research has not disclosed a case directly on point, it is a settled principle of municipal law that a municipality may delegate its legislative functions to one of its agencies within clear standards (Trustees of Village of Saratoga Springs v. Saratoga Gas, Electric and Power Co., 191 N.Y. 123, 83 N.E. 693 (1908); People ex rel. Doscher v. Sisson, 222 N.Y. 387, 118 N.E. 789 (1918); Matter of Small v. Moss, 279 N.Y. 288, 18 N.E.2d 281 (1938); Green Point Sav. Bank v. Board of Zoning Appeals of Town of Hempstead, 281 N.Y. 534, 24 N.E.2d 319 (1939); Thomas v. Board of Standards and Appeals, 263 App. Div. 352, N.Y.S.2d 219 (2d Dept., 1942)). Here the only discretion delegated was for three elected officials to select one of their number to a position of increased administrative responsibility. This function certainly appears to be within the competence of the officials and is a limited delegation of the Town Board’s powers.

While there might be some question as to the form of the delegation, the Town Board has consistently acquiesced in the assessors’ selection. An analogy might be drawn to the doctrine of ratification in the law of contract. A municipality may be held bound to a contract entered into by an unauthorized agent where the municipality accepts the benefits of the contract (Peterson v. Mayor of N. Y., 17 N.Y. 449 (1858); Nelson v. Mayor, 63 N.Y. 535 (1876); Moore v. Mayor, 73 N.Y. 238 (1878); Albany City National Bank v. City of Albany, 92 N.Y. 363 (1883); Vermeule v. City of Corning, 186 App. Div. 206, 174 N.Y.S. 220 (4th Dept., 1919)). While there is no contract here, there are the elements of acquiescence and reliance which support a ratification.

Finally, the 1978 appointment of a Chairman by the Town Board had no effect beyond January 1, 1979, since the terms of the statute specifically limit the length of such appointments (see, Op. State Com-pt. 78-243).

July 21, 1981

Updated: