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Assembly Panel Advances Measures to Make it Easier to Cut Property Taxes by Sharing Municipal Courts

Wisniewski, Watson Coleman, Burzichelli, Lampitt, Greenwald & Coughlin Measures Ask Voters to Approve Constitutional Amendment; Make Sharing Municipal Courts Simpler

(TRENTON) – An Assembly panel on Monday released separate measures sponsored by Assembly Democrats John Wisniewski, Bonnie Watson Coleman, John Burzichelli, Pamela Lampitt, Louis Greenwald and Craig J. Coughlin that would make it easier for municipalities to cut property taxes by sharing municipal court services.

The resolution (ACR-88), sponsored by Wisniewski, Watson Coleman, Burzichelli, Lampitt and Greenwald, would ask New Jersey voters in the next general election to authorize amending the state Constitution to change how regional or shared municipal court judges are appointed in New Jersey to save taxpayers money. The bill (A-1566), sponsored by Wisniewski and Coughlin, would enable the constitutional amendment to take effect, if and when approved by the voters.

“This is a great opportunity to remove a significant barrier to municipal service sharing and help create property tax relief by streamlining local government and cutting costs,” said Wisniewski (D-Middlesex).

“This change would simply make the law the same for single and regional courts, thus making it easier to create more efficient and inexpensive courts,” said Watson Coleman (D-Mercer).

Judges in a single-municipality Municipal Court are appointed by the mayor and council of that municipality, but the state Constitution requires judges of joint or regional courts to be appointed by the governor. Under the proposed measures, the selection and appointment of joint municipal court judges would be set forth in the agreement creating the joint municipal court, while central municipal court judges would be appointed by the county executive or county government body.

“As a practical matter, many towns choose not to share judges because the appointment process is far more cumbersome and time consuming. That’s why we have so few shared courts, even though they can help save money,” said Burzichelli (D-Gloucester/Cumberland/Salem).

“Having two methods for approving municipal judges promotes a costly, inefficient court system,” said Lampitt (D-Camden). “This legislation is a common-sense solution to streamline the process and save money for the property taxpayers who foot the bill for court services.”

“Changing this process was among the recommendations that came out of the Legislature’s historic 2006 special session on property tax reform as a cost-saving measure to help keep increases at bay,” said Greenwald (D-Camden).

“Sharing court services is one way municipalities can cut down on expenses and redundancy. This is a sensible way to encourage more court shared services to help reduce municipal expenses and increase efficiency in the courts,” said Coughlin (D-Middlesex).

Voters rejected the plan during the 2008 general election, but the sponsors hope better understanding of the law will lead to different results this time around.

The measures were released unanimously by the Assembly Judiciary Committee.