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(TRENTON) – Four Assembly Democratic property tax reform bills to attack unfunded state mandates that drive up property taxes were released Monday by an Assembly panel.
“Unfunded mandates and unnecessary regulations like these have helped shove New Jersey property taxes to unacceptable levels,” said Assemblyman John McKeon (D-Essex), who sponsors the bills and chairs the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste committee that released them. “With these changes, we will bring real savings to property taxpayers without spending a dime, simply by easing mandates that no longer serve a purpose or are simply too burdensome.”
The bills would:
· Allow more groups to file complaints against unfunded state mandates (A-3204).
· Give municipalities discretion in implementing Municipal Court security plans (A-3268) .
· Allow public record custodians to require a 50 percent or other deposit when a request for reproducing records exceeds $15, to help cover costs when requested documents aren’t retrieved (A-3270).
· Save municipalities money by revising master plan re-examination requirements (A-3272).
McKeon was asked by Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver (D-Essex/Passaic) over the summer to lead an Assembly examination of state mandates that help drive up property taxes.
The bill (A-3096) sponsored by Assemblyman Fred Scalera (D-Essex/Bergen/Passaic) McKeon and Assemblyman John Burzichelli and would expand the groups that can bring challenges to the Council on Local Mandates. Currently, only individual municipalities can lodge challenges.
“This is a sensible step toward a more affordable New Jersey,” said Scalera, who spent the summer crafting the bill as part of the Assembly Democratic property tax reform effort. “Allowing more groups to challenge these mandates will lead to a more accountable system that hopefully will lead the state to think twice about the cost of some of these costly regulations. That can only help keep property taxes in check.”
“The current system has proven unwieldy and often led to municipalities choosing not to file challenges because it’s simply too costly to go it alone,” said McKeon (D-Essex). “Allowing more parties to file challenges will help provide a strong check against unfunded state mandates, hopefully keeping local government costs and property taxes under control. Quite simply, this is a commonsense change.”
“All too often we’ve seen unfunded state mandates drive up property taxes on already overburdened taxpayers,” said Burzichelli (D-Gloucester/Cumberland/Salem). “The Council on Local Mandates is a viable place to go to seek relief, but the current system is unworkable for too many municipalities that cannot afford a challenge. This is a smart change.”
The bill would allow the New Jersey Conference of Mayors, the New Jersey State League of Municipalities, the New Jersey School Boards Association, the New Jersey Association of Counties, the New Jersey Council of County Colleges, the New Jersey Association of Fire Districts and groups representing police and fire chiefs and emergency services workers to file a complaint with the Council on Local Mandates concerning a potential unfunded mandate.
Another bill (A-3272) modifies the Municipal Land Use Law to provide that municipalities need to complete the reexamination of the municipal master plan only every ten years. The legislation would also provide a procedure for built-out municipalities to waive the general reexamination process.
“This would save municipalities from having to perform a general reexamination report every six years,” said Assemblyman Charles Mainor, (D-Hudson), a sponsor. “In many cases, all the developable property in a municipality is being used and amending the municipal master plan is nothing more than an unnecessary burden. Under this bill, if the State Planning Commission determines that a municipality is built-out, the municipality would be able to waive the general reexamination process.”
The next bill (A-3268) clarifies that the implementation of a Municipal Court security plan shall be at the discretion of the municipal governing body.
“Each municipality knows what’s best for them to provide adequate court security,” said Assemblyman Peter J. Barnes III (D-Middlesex), a sponsor. “What works in one community may not work in another and prove very costly. It’s best to give each municipality their own discretion.”
The final bill (A-3270) amends the Open Public Records Act to allow a custodian of public records to require a 50 percent or other deposit when a request for reproducing such records exceeds $15. The bill also codifies a final decision of the Government Records Council, which held that a custodian is not required to release records until payment is received.
“The council has reported that since 2002 it has received numerous complaints from custodians concerning the failure of requesters to retrieve the public records that were requested,” McKeon said. “When requested records aren’t retrieved, the end result is simply an unfortunate waste of taxpayer dollars.”
A bill to make clear that the Attorney General shall represent county constitutional officers in actions brought against the officer in the scope of the officer’s employment was held for more clarification.