Opinion 89-26


This opinion represents the views of the Office of the State Comptroller at the time it was rendered. The opinion may no longer represent those views if, among other things, there have been subsequent court cases or statutory amendments that bear on the issues discussed in the opinion.


CONFLICTS OF INTEREST -- Financial Disclosure (applicability to fire districts)

GENERAL MUNICIPAL LAW, §811: A fire district is authorized to promulgate a form of annual statement of financial disclosure for its officers and employees, but if it fails to do so there is no requirement that the officers or employees of the fire district complete and file annual financial disclosure statements.

You ask whether fire district officers are required to complete and file annual financial disclosure statements.

Chapter 813 of the Laws of 1987, known as the "Ethics in Government Act", amended Article 18 of the General Municipal Law (§800 et seq.) to provide for a system of annual financial disclosure by localities. The Act distinguishes between "municipalities" and "political subdivisions" for purposes of the financial disclosure requirements.

Under the Act, "municipality" is defined for this purpose to include, among other entities, any county, city, town or village, regardless of population, and any school district, district corporation or other district (General Municipal Law, §800[4]). A "political subdivision" is defined to mean a county, city, town or village having a population of 50,000 or more (General Municipal Law, §810[1]). For this purpose, "population" means population as shown by the latest Federal census published as a final population count by the U.S. Bureau of the Census (General Construction Law, §37-b).

General Municipal Law, §811(1)(a) authorizes, but does not require, the governing body of any "political subdivision" or any "municipality" which is not a "political subdivision" to adopt a local law, ordinance, or resolution either: (i) promulgating its own form of annual statement of financial disclosure which is designed to assure disclosure by "municipal officers and employees" and, in the case of a county, city, town of village, which is designed to assure disclosure by "local elected officials and/or by local political party officials" of such financial information as is determined necessary; or (ii) resolving to continue the use of an authorized form of annual statement of financial disclosure in use on the date such local law, ordinance or resolution is adopted. Any such local enactment must specify by name of office or by title or classification those municipal officers and employees and, in the case of a county, city, town or village, those local elected officials and/or those local politicalparty officials required to complete and file the annual statement of financial disclosure.

In the event that a "political subdivision" fails to adopt a local enactment promulgating or continuing the use of an authorized form of annual statement of financial disclosure by January 1, 1991, General Municipal Law, §811(2) provides that the financial disclosure requirements of General Municipal Law, §812 will apply to that political subdivision. General Municipal Law, §812(1)(a) provides that such a political subdivision must require each of its "local elected officials" and "local officers and employees", each "local political party official" and each "candidate for local elected official" to file the annual statement of financial disclosure prescribed in subdivision five of that section. General Municipal Law, §812[2] also authorizes any county, city, town or village with a population of less than 50,000, by local law, to elect whether to be governed by section 812.

Since a fire district is a district corporation (Town Law, §174[7]; General Construction Law, §66[3]), it is a "municipality", rather than a "political subdivision", for purposes of these financial disclosure requirements. Therefore, a fire district is authorized to promulgate or continue the use of an authorized form of annual statement of financial disclosure (General Municipal Law, §811[1][a]). If a fire district fails to take such action, however, the financial disclosure requirements of General Municipal Law, §812 are not applicable on either a mandatory or optional basis because a fire district is neither a "political subdivision" (see General Municipal Law, §§811[2], 812[1][a]), nor a county, city, town or village with a population of less than 50,000 (see General Municipal Law, §812[1][a],[2]). Accordingly, a fire district is authorized to promulgate a form of annual statement of financial disclosure for its officers and employees including the form of annual financial disclosure, set forth in section 812 (General Municipal Law, §811[1][e]), but if it fails to do so, there is no statutory requirement that the officers and employees of the fire district complete and file an annual financial disclosure form.

Finally, we note that General Municipal Law, §806(3)(c) contains various filing requirements. Among other things, this provision provides that until January 1, 1991, the clerk of every "municipality", including a fire district, must file with this Office and, on or after January 1, 1991, with the Temporary State Commission on Local Government Ethics, if the Commission then exists, and in all events must maintain as a record subject to public inspection, either: (1) a copy of the municipality's form of annual statement of financial disclosure and a statement of the date such form was promulgated by local law, ordinance or resolution or a statement that the governing body, by local law, ordinance or resolution, has resolved to continue the use of an authorized form in use on the date such local law ordinance or resolution is adopted; or (2) if as of January 1, 1991, a municipality has failed to promulgate or continue to use an authorized form of annual financial disclosure, a statement that the provisions of General Municipal Law, §812 apply to the municipality or a statement that the provisions of section 812 do not apply to the municipality because, as in the case of a fire district, it is not a "political subdivision".

July 12, 1989
Joseph R. Attonito, Esq., Attorney at Law
Selden Fire District