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Unofficial Opinion 95-23

Unofficial Opinion 95-23

October 12, 1995
To: 

Attorney for the Vidalia City
School System

Re: 

When the General Assembly enacted legislation which required the Vidalia Public School System to be brought into conformity with the method of certification and levy of school tax provided in Ga. Const. 1983, Art. VIII, Sec. VI, Para. I(a), it eliminated the Vidalia Public School System's ability to utilize a different method of certification and levy which had been allowed under the "grandfather" provision in Ga. Const. 1983, Art. VIII, Sec. VI, Para. I(d).

You have asked for my advice as to whether the Vidalia Public School System can utilize the method of certification and levy of school taxes which was in effect on June 30, 1983, where the School System was required by subsequently enacted legislation to utilize the method provided in Article VIII, Section VI, Paragraph I(a) of the Georgia Constitution of 1983. For the reasons set forth below, I agree with your conclusion that the School System cannot return to utilizing the method which was in effect on June 30, 1983.

As it relates to your question, the Georgia Constitution of 1983 provides:

(a) The board of education of each school system shall annually certify to its fiscal authority or authorities a school tax not greater than 20 mills per dollar for the support and maintenance of education. Said fiscal authority or authorities shall annually levy said tax upon the assessed value of all taxable property within the territory served by said school system, . . . .

. . . .

(d) The method of certification and levy of the school tax provided for in subparagraph (a) of this Paragraph shall not apply to those systems that are authorized on June 30, 1983, to utilize a different method of certification and levy of such tax; but the General Assembly may by law require that such systems be brought into conformity with the method of certification and levy herein provided.

Ga. Const. 1983, Art. VIII, Sec. VI, Para. I (1985).

As you know, the Act creating the Vidalia Public School System provided a different method of certification and levy of school tax than the method provided in Ga. Const. 1983, Art. VIII, Sec. VI, Para. I(a). See 1906 Ga. Laws 1104. Although the 1906 Act was amended, the School System was still authorized on June 30, 1983 to utilize that different method of certification and levy. See 1914 Ga. Laws 1209, 1917 Ga. Laws 895, 1920 Ga. Laws 1753, 1925 Ga. Laws 1530, 1926 Ga. Laws 207, 1953 Ga. Laws 2339 (Jan.-Feb. Sess.). Accordingly, under the "grandfather" provision in Ga. Const. 1983, Art. VIII, Sec. VI, Para. I(d), the method of certification and levy of school tax provided in Ga. Const 1983, Art. VIII, Sec. VI, Para. I(a) did not apply to the Vidalia Public School System.

However, in 1986, the General Assembly enacted legislation requiring a special election in which the electors of the School District of the City of Vidalia were to choose between two alternative amendments to the 1906 Act and to the City Charter. See 1986 Ga. Laws 4862. Under the first alternative, the School System would be brought into conformity with the method of certification and levy provided in Ga. Const. 1983, Art. VIII, Sec. VI, Para. I(a). Id. Under the second alternative, the original method of certification and levy in the 1906 Act would be kept intact. Id. You have informed me that a special election was held, and that the electors chose to implement the first alternative described above.

Thus, pursuant to law enacted by the General Assembly, the Vidalia Public School System's method of certification and levy of school tax was brought into conformity with the method provided in Ga. Const. 1983, Art. VIII, Sec. VI, Para. I(a). The question, then, is whether the School System, having been permitted under the "grandfather" provision in Ga. Const. 1983, Art. VIII, Sec. VI, Para. I(d) to utilize a different method of certification and levy of school tax, may once again utilize that different method even though the General Assembly subsequently enacted a law requiring the School System to utilize the method which conforms with the Georgia Constitution of 1983.

Settled principles of constitutional interpretation require that:

[W]here a constitutional provision . . . is plain and susceptible of but one natural and reasonable construction, the court has no authority to place a different construction upon it, but must construe it according to its terms. In other words the language being plain, and not leading to absurd or wholly impracticable consequences, it is the sole evidence of the ultimate legislative intent.

Van Dyck v. Van Dyck, 262 Ga. 720, 721-2 (1993) (internal quotation marks and bracketed information omitted) (quoting Hollowell v. Jove, 247 Ga. 678, 681 (1981)).

The language in Ga. Const. 1983, Art. VIII, Sec. VI, Para. I(d) is plain: A school system, such as the Vidalia Public School System, which was authorized on June 30, 1983 to utilize a method of certification and levy of school tax which is different from the method provided in Subparagraph (a) may continue to utilize that different method so long as the General Assembly does not enact any law requiring the school system to conform with the method provided in Subparagraph (a); however, if the General Assembly enacts legislation requiring a school system to be brought into conformity with the method provided in Subparagraph (a), as it did with regard to the Vidalia Public School System, the "grandfather" provision no longer has any force or effect.

Furthermore, this result is supported by the fact that the plain language of Ga. Const. 1983, Art. VIII, Sec. VI, Para. I(d) dictates a procedure by which the General Assembly can eliminate the non-conforming practice permitted under the "grandfather" provision but does not provide any procedure for reviving that "grandfather" provision once the General Assembly has acted to eliminate it. See 1984 Op. Att'y Gen. 84-22, p. 53 ("The usual operation of a grandfather clause is to permit continuation of a practice by those already so engaged, in order not to disrupt settled practice."); and 1984 Op. Att'y Gen. U84-40, p. 266 (Because the plain language of Ga. Const. 1983, Art. VIII, Sec. VI, Para. II only dictates procedures for the increase or removal of the millage rate, no reduction in that rate is permitted.). See also Thurman's Auto Parts & Wrecker Serv., Inc. v. Cobb County, 248 Ga. 826, 827 (1982) (abandonment/condemnation of real property on which a non-conforming use was permitted under a "grandfather" clause cannot be continued on a new parcel of real property).

Accordingly, it is my unofficial opinion that, when the General Assembly enacted legislation which required the Vidalia Public School System to be brought into conformity with the method of certification and levy of school tax provided in Ga. Const. 1983, Art. VIII, Sec. VI, Para. I(a), it eliminated the Vidalia Public School System's ability to utilize a different method of certification and levy which had been allowed under the "grandfather" provision in Ga. Const. 1983, Art. VIII, Sec. VI, Para. I(d).

Prepared by:

MATTHEW P. STONE
Assistant Attorney General