TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Shirley K. Turner and Senator Jim Beach to establish procedures for moving annual fire district elections from February to November to save tax dollars and increase voter interest in elections that decide how millions in taxpayer dollars are spent cleared the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee today.
“An election at an odd time of the year, in the middle of winter, on a Saturday, is predestined to attract few voters,” said Senator Turner (D-Hunterdon/Mercer). “Fire district elections are not well publicized and are not held at a regular polling place. Fewer than two percent of voters are participating in these elections, and in some towns, it’s less than one percent. We need to increase voter turnout to ensure that more voters have a say in how fire district budgets spend millions in taxpayer dollars.”
“It just makes sense to move these elections, particularly given the extra cost of conducting a special election,” said Senator Beach (D-Burlington/Camden). “Moreover, having these elections in November will be more convenient for taxpayers, especially when they can get all their voting done at one time without having to worry about going back on an additional winter day.”
The bill provides a process for moving a fire district election to November. The date of the annual fire district election would be moved to November upon the adoption of a resolution by the board of fire commissioners of the district.
For fire districts that move their elections to November, the bill would eliminate votes on annual fire district budgets where proposed spending is within state authorized limits known as caps. Spending requests above the cap and capital expenditures funded by bonds or other debt would be subject to voter approval in November. Fire districts that do not move their election to November must seek voter approval of their budget.
The State Comptroller issued a report in 2014 recommending that fire district elections be moved to November as a way to promote awareness and transparency of fire district operations. The idea is also supported by the governor who included moving the fire district election in his property tax reform “tool kit.”
S-660 cleared the committee 9-0-4 and next heads to the full Senate for further consideration.