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(TRENTON) – Legislation Assembly Democrats Connie Wagner, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Lou Greenwald and Pam Lampitt sponsored to ease municipal consolidation rules after the state rejected a merger study by Merchantville and Cherry Hill is now law.
The law (A-3587) modifies New Jersey’s Local Option Consolidation Act to allow municipal consolidation studies to occur via a hybrid application process.
Such an 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.
The sponsors drafted their measure 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 administration 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 had 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.”
“Our property tax system is broken, and any effort to fix it must begin with removing unacceptable bureaucratic obstacles like this,” said Greenwald (D-Camden). “It’s absurd to think that the state would block a merger study because the towns didn’t ask in identical ways, but with this law that type of barrier is removed.”
“A merger study request should be valid regardless of whether the towns submitted their requests via a voter petition, through a vote by the municipal governing body or any combination thereof,” said Lampitt (D-Camden). “It’s unfortunate that we had to legislate common sense like this, but at least this law will make mergers and efforts to control property taxes easier.”
The bill was signed into law by the governor.