On August 7 Governor Christie signed into law A-1690/S-660, which allows fire district elections to be moved to November; eliminates certain fire district budget referenda, and eliminates certain fire district capital purchase referenda. This new law (P.L. 2017, c. 206) takes effect on January 1, 2019.
The Board of Fire Commissioners will have the option of moving the annual Fire District election, by resolution, from February to the same day as the General Election. Once the Board of Fire Commissioners moves the Fire District election it cannot be changed. However, before the date can be changed the County Board of Elections must certify the election districts.
By January 30, 2019 the County Board of Elections must determine whether an annual Fire District election can be held at the General Election based on election district boundaries. If it is determined that the election can take place during the General Election the County Board of Elections must send a certificate to the Fire District’s Board of Commissioners as well as the Governing Body of the municipality. If it is determined that the election cannot be held during the General Election, the County Board of Elections must send a letter to the Fire District. However, the County Board of Elections may revise or readjust the boundary lines of any election district and the Board of Fire Commissioners, if authorized by ordinance adopted by the municipality, may revise or readjust the boundary lines of any fire district, including by means of consolidation or subdividing districts, as necessary to align the fire district boundaries with the election district boundaries. Please note that any proposed consolidation or subdivision must be approved by the Local Finance Board. Also, the Fire District must notify the Division of Local Government Services of any boundary adjustments.
Petitions to run for Fire Commissioner will continue to be the same for the elections held in February. For the General Election districts, candidates will need to file their petition, with the lesser of 10 signatures or 2% of the voters who voted in the last Fire District election, to the County Clerk before 4:00 p.m. on the last Monday in July. A candidate who wishes to withdraw from the General Election must file written notice of withdrawal to with the County Clerk 70 days prior to the November election.
If the annual election is moved to the General Election the term for the Fire Commissioner elected at the General Election will begin at 12 noon on the 1st Tuesday in December and will expire 3 years later at 12 noon the 1st Tuesday in December. Any vacancy in membership is filled by the remaining members until the next succeeding General Election. The person elected to fill the vacancy will be elected for the unexpired term.
The law also establishes two different budget adoption processes. For Fire Districts with February elections, the voters must approve the annual Fire District’s budget. For Fire Districts with the General Election voters only vote on the budget if the budget exceeds the 2% Property Tax levy cap. The law does permit all Fire Districts to submit a public question to increase the levy greater than the 2% property tax levy cap at an election held the 3rd Saturday in February.
The law also amended the statute pertaining to the acquisition of property and equipment for fire districts; limitations; referendum for the issuance of bonds (N.J.S.A. 40A:14-85). Specifically, the Board of Fire Commissioners can purchase a firehouse or other buildings, including but not limited to, administrative, communications, or training buildings, or buildings for the maintenance of fire apparatus in addition to the existing fire engines, apparatus, or other appliance for the extinguishment of fires and acquire lands or buildings or erect buildings for the housing of such equipment. In addition, Fire Districts may use a lease-purchase agreement instead of a bond issue.
The Department of Community Affairs, in consultation with Division of Elections, has been given rulemaking authority to effectuate this law.
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Lori Buckelew, Sr. Legislative Analyst, firstname.lastname@example.org, 609-695-3481 x112.