Legislation Assembly Democrats Herb Conaway, Troy Singleton and Tim Eustace sponsored to facilitate the consolidation of local fire districts was approved 71-0-2 Monday by the Assembly, giving it final legislative approval.
"Allowing fire districts to consolidate is a means of reducing costs for municipalities, which ultimately benefits taxpayers," said Conaway (D-Burlington). "The voluntary, streamlined and transparent procedure for which this bill calls will help districts navigate the consolidation process."
The bill (A-3006) would permit two or more municipalities to consolidate fire districts if the commissioners of each of the fire districts within each municipality adopt parallel resolutions consenting to the development of a consolidation plan.
In addition, the bill permits a single municipality to consider the consolidation of all fire districts within that municipality.
Any municipal governing body or governing bodies that approve the development of a consolidation plan are to work with the fire district commissioners to prepare the plan. The plan may be prepared in consultation with the Director of the Division of Local Government Services in the Department of Community Affairs, or a designee.
Upon completion of the consolidation plan, which the bill requires to include a first-year budget for the consolidated fire district, among other items, the governing body of each municipality considering consolidation is required to fix a time and place for a hearing to discuss the proposed consolidation.
The bill directs that notice of the hearing be provided to the public, and copies of the proposed consolidation plan be made available for public inspection by the municipal clerk.
Following the hearing, the bill requires the governing body or governing bodies of each municipality to vote on a resolution to consolidate the fire districts. Upon passage of the resolution, the governing bodies must apply to the Local Finance Board for approval to consolidate their fire districts pursuant to the consolidation plan.
Once the consolidation plan is effective, the assets and debts of the fire districts to be consolidated must be reapportioned pursuant to the consolidation plan.
The bill calls for the consolidation to become operative after the next fire district election following the final adoption of the consolidation plan by at least 29 days, during which new commissioners for the consolidated district must be elected.
The bill would also permit the enlargement of an existing fire district by including additional territory in another municipality that is not included in another fire district upon the adoption of a parallel ordinance.
"Fire district consolidation will yield long-term savings for taxpayers," said Singleton (D-Burlington). "This legislation will lend some direction to municipalities and those fire districts that believe this is the best direction for them to take."
"All across the state, municipalities are looking for ways to cut costs without compromising quality of life for their residents, and fire district consolidation can be one of those ways," said Eustace (D-Bergen/Passaic). "By requiring the development of a plan and requiring municipalities to vote on that plan, this bill establishes an open, ordered route for local governments to take should they choose to consolidate."
The bill now goes to the governor.