WAGNER & VAINIERI HUTTLE BILL PERMITTING MUNICIPAL CONSOLIDATION BY ‘HYBRID APPLICATION’ ADVANCES

Measure Stems from DCA Rejection of Merchantville, Cherry Hill Request to Study Possible Merger

(TRENTON) — Legislation Assemblywomen Connie Wagner and Valerie Vainieri Huttle sponsored that would modify New Jersey’s Local Option Consolidation Act to allow municipal consolidation studies to occur via a “hybrid application” process was released Thursday by an Assembly panel.

A “hybrid application” for a consolidation study occurs when two municipalities seeking to explore a merger take different paths to approve the study: approval from the governing body of one, usually the larger; and a petition from residents in the other, usually the smaller.

Wagner and Vainieri Huttle drafted their measure (A-3587) in direct response to the state Department of Community Affairs (DCA) invalidating a proposal for a consolidation study between Merchantville and Cherry Hill because the municipalities submitted a hybrid application.

“It is patently ridiculous that the DCA would prohibit two towns from exploring a merger simply because they didn’t express their support for the idea an identical fashion,” said Wagner (D-Bergen). “If writing flexibility into the law is what it takes to seriously encourage municipal consolidation in New Jersey, then that is what we have to do.”

“Studies on municipal mergers that are agreed upon by both towns should not be denied on the basis of a bureaucracy interpreting the law in the narrowest scope possible,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “If two towns agree to explore a merger, the last thing the state should be doing is standing in the way.”

The Wagner/Vainieri Huttle bill would specify that applications for a municipal consolidation study commission under the state’s Local Option Consolidation Act would be valid regardless of whether the towns in question submitted their requests via a voter petition, through a vote by the municipal governing body, or any combination thereof.

The Assembly Housing and Local Government Committee unanimously released the measure. It now heads to the Assembly Speaker, who decides if and when to post it for a floor vote.