LEGISLATIVE FISCAL ESTIMATE

ASSEMBLY, No. 1690

STATE OF NEW JERSEY

217th LEGISLATURE

 

DATED: JANUARY 27, 2017

 

 

SUMMARY

 

Synopsis:

Allows fire district elections to be moved to November; eliminates certain fire district budget referenda; and eliminates certain fire district capital purchase referenda.

Type of Impact:

Indeterminate impact on local finances.

Agencies Affected:

Counties and fire districts

 

Office of Legislative Services Estimate

Fiscal Impact

Year 1 

Year 2 

Year 3 

 

Local Finances

Indeterminate Fiscal Impact – See comments below

 

 

 

 

·         The Office of Legislative Services (OLS) concludes that the enactment of Assembly Bill No. 1690 will have an indeterminate impact on fire district finances.  According to the 2016 Abstracts of Ratables, there are 183 fire districts in New Jersey.

·         Moving the date of the fire district election from February to November may result in a reduction in expenditures and it is likely these costs will be absorbed into the cost of the general election.  Counties may incur additional costs associated with the redrawing of election district boundaries and the production of election district maps.

·         The OLS cannot predict how the elimination of voter referenda for the approval of fire district budgets and certain fire district capital purchases will affect local finances.  Allowing fire districts, with voter approval, to make certain capital purchases, without issuing bonds, will allow for savings on debt issuance costs.

 

 

BILL DESCRIPTION

 

      Assembly Bill No. 1690 of 2016 establishes procedures for moving the date of a fire district’s annual election from the third Saturday in February (the date required under current law) to the day of the general election in November.  Under the bill, the date of the annual fire district election may be moved to November upon the adoption of a resolution by the board of fire commissioners of a fire district.  The bill requires an annual fire district election held in November to be conducted in accordance with the procedures provided for the general election in Title 19 of the Revised Statutes.  In addition, candidates for members of a board of fire commissioners to be voted for at such elections would be nominated through the direct nomination by petition process set forth in Title 19 of the Revised Statutes. 

      If a fire district’s annual election is moved to November, the terms of the fire commissioners then in office would be extended until the first Tuesday in December of the years in which their terms would expire, and the new fire commissioners would take office at that time.  Before a fire district election may be moved to November, the county board of election in each county within which a fire district is located would have to ensure that election districts are appropriately apportioned to enable the annual fire district election to be held as part of the general election.  If the election for the first board of fire commissioners is held at the time of the general election, subsequent general elections for the fire district would also be conducted at the time of the general election, and in accordance with the procedures provided for the general election in Title 19 of the Revised Statutes.

      The bill eliminates voter referenda required under current law for the approval of fire district budgets, except for proposals to raise revenue above the statutory two percent property tax levy cap.  The bill also eliminates voter referenda currently required for certain capital purchases funded through increases in the property tax levy and permitted under the two percent property tax levy cap law.  The bill allows a board of fire commissioners to adopt a resolution, by not less than a two-thirds majority vote, authorizing funds to be raised for these capital purchases.  The resolution would have to be advertised and subject to a public hearing, similar to the process followed by municipalities and counties for certain capital expenditures.

 

 

FISCAL ANALYSIS

 

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

 

      None received.

 

OFFICE OF LEGISLATIVE SERVICES

 

      The OLS concludes that the enactment of Assembly Bill No. 1690 would have an indeterminate impact on local finances.  Moving fire district elections would result in an indeterminate decrease in local expenditures.  There are no readily available data on the cost of fire district elections because these costs are not specifically identified on annual budgets submitted by fire districts submitted to the Division of Local Government Services.  The Division of Elections in the Department of State has informally indicated that fire district elections are not very expensive.  Under current law, fire district elections are managed by each district’s board of fire commissioners.  Fire districts are not required to use sample ballots and voting machines, or print poll books (the book a voter signs before they step into the voting booth).  The most significant election cost incurred by fire districts is for the printing of mail-in ballots, but these ballots are provided only when requested by individual voters.  A board of fire commissioners may choose to use voting machines by renting from the county board of elections, but these costs vary from county to county.  The Division of Elections noted that many, if not all, of the costs of holding a fire district election in February would be absorbed into the cost of holding the general election in November. 

      The OLS notes that some fire districts have election district boundaries that are not coterminous with the boundaries of election districts used for regular general elections.  The bill requires the county board of election to ensure that election districts are appropriately apportioned to enable an annual fire district election to be held as part of the general election.  Accordingly, a county may incur new costs associated with the redrawing of election district boundaries and the production of new election district maps.  It is unclear whether a county board of election may charge a fire district for these services.

      The OLS cannot predict how the elimination of voter referenda for the approval of fire district budgets and certain fire district capital purchases will affect local finances.  Fire districts are currently subject to the two percent property tax levy cap established by P.L.2007, c.63.  The OLS notes that fire district budgetary decisions that determine annual changes in the fire district property tax levy are affected by multiple factors, such as the provisions of labor contracts, costs of goods and services, levels of local non-property tax revenues, and debt service requirements.  Although the bill allows a board of fire commissioners to approve an increase in the property tax levy for certain capital purchases for fire extinguishing purposes, the limit on the additional amount to be levied, 5 mills on the dollar of the last assessed valuation of property in the fire district, remains unchanged.  Information published in the 2016 Abstracts of Ratables indicates that there are 183 fire districts in New Jersey with a total property tax levy of approximately $240 million.

 

Section:

Local Government

Analyst:

Scott A. Brodsky

Senior Fiscal Analyst

Approved:

Frank W. Haines III

Legislative Budget and Finance Officer

 

This legislative fiscal estimate has been produced by the Office of Legislative Services due to the failure of the Executive Branch to respond to our request for a fiscal note.

 

This fiscal estimate has been prepared pursuant to P.L.1980, c.67 (C.52:13B-6 et seq.).