Legislation Assembly Democrats Herb Conaway, Troy Singleton and Tim Eustace sponsored to facilitate the consolidation of local fire districts has been signed into law.
"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 that this law calls for will help districts navigate the consolidation process."
Specifically, the new law (A-3006) will 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 law permits a single municipality to consider the consolidation of all fire districts within that municipality.
"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 law establishes an open, ordered route for local governments to take should they choose to consolidate."
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 law 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 law 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 law 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 law 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 law also permits 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.