Assembly committee moves local mandate bill

A group of bills making their way through the legislature seek to aid townships in dealing with mandates from the state that many municipal officials say cost them thousands or more each year.

The Assembly Environment and Solid Waste committee looked at several bills this afternoon with an eye toward relieving the burden on mayors forced to pay for the mandates.

 “These three or four things that have come up,” Chairman John McKeon (D-West Orange) said. “We think we can provide immediate relief legislatively.”

The bill on the table, A3204, would allow local agencies better access to the Council on Local Mandates, so that the agencies can appeal legislatively-required local spending.

Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-Paulsboro), mayor of Paulsboro, who sat with the committee today, is the co-sponsor of the bill.

“This (Council on Local Mandates) seems to be largely unutilized,” Burzichelli said.

In 1995, a New Jersey constitutional amendment barred laws ordering local government agencies to spend money, unless the state supplies the money.

To deal with any outstanding complaints – like radon gas testing, air-conditioned animal control vehicles, and deer carcass removal – the legislature created the Council on Local Mandates in 1996.

Executive Director Shawn Slaughter said since its inception the council has heard just 11 cases, with a twelfth submitted by Branchburg in July.

The mayors of Shiloh (Cumberland) and Rocky Hill (Somerset) and over 25 other municipalities filed a complaint in 2008 regarding cost-sharing for State Police patrol services to rural municipalities.

The outcome after a hearing from the council: “The challenged portion of the Appropriations Act is an unfunded mandate.”

The council has the power to forcibly rescind laws or executive orders that are unconstitutional unfunded mandates, and in this case, it did overturn the law.

But to prove a mandate exists and is unfunded before the council costs towns money.

“The council’s decision is final and un-appealable,” Burzichelli reminded the crowd today.

The council unanimously released the bill, which allows towns to “approach the council and petition for relief,” Burzichelli said, through a list of organizations.

The list includes the Conference of Mayors, League of Municipalities, School Boards Association, Association of Counties, Council of County Colleges, Coalition of Schools, or Association of Fire Districts.

Currently, only the governing body or directly elected chief executive of a county or a municipality or a local board of education may file complaints with the Council on Local Mandates.

Michael Cerra, senior legislative aide for the League of Municipalities, thanked the committee for allowing a panel presentation on mandates a month ago.

“We agree the council is an under-utilized tool,” Cerra said.

Companion bill, S2208, was passed 36-0 by the Senate on August 23.

Jack Tarditty, chairman of the Council on Local Mandates, said he doesn’t think people will be banging on the door to file complaints; after all, the constitutional amendment has proactively eliminated unfunded mandates.

A cost barrier removed, does this mean more complaints? “No, I don’t think so,” Tarditty said.

“All it would do is it would move the filing (from one place to another),” he said. “I don’t know if it’s going to increase the number of filings,” although, “we don’t pander for business.”

“I’m not sure it’s going to change much,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to go from one to two per year to ten per year.”

Accommodations for charter schools sparked several complaints since the council was created.

The most recent decision did not result in the rescinding of law.

A complaint filed by the Township of Medford in 2008 accused the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) of mandates unfunded.

But the majority of the council found that COAH regulations are not legislative or regulatory “mandates” because participation in COAH process is option


Assembly committee moves local mandate bill