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Senator Shirley K. Turner (D-Mercer) testifies during today’s Senate voting session.

TRENTON — A bill sponsored by Senator Shirley Turner that would help bolster struggling urban neighborhoods by creating more incentives for police, firefighters, teachers and sanitation workers to live and work in the same community cleared the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee yesterday.

The bill, S-1593, is aimed at 31 cities and towns once classified as Abbott districts due to a number of factors, including their low-income levels, and would provide these city workers access to zero-interest loans of up to $10,000 that they could use to help buy or renovate a home. The applicant would be required to make a home purchased with program assistance his or her primary residence for at least five years.  Down-payment loans would be forgiven at a rate of 20 percent a year for five years.  The unforgiven balance would become due and payable if an employee sells the property or ceases to occupy it as a primary residence.

“Communities are only as strong as the people that live in them. This bill provides incentives for hard-working people to live and work in the same community. Making police officers, teachers and others part of the communities they serve will give them a greater stake in their success,” said Turner (D-Mercer, Hunterdon). “It will also make communities safer and more stable. Criminals would be less likely to strike when there is a local police officer living in the neighborhood and law-abiding citizens would feel safer knowing that the people who patrol the streets during the day are just down the street at night.”

The governing body of any eligible municipality may opt to participate in the program by adopting an ordinance.  The ordinance would identify municipal neighborhoods where the program would be applicable. The ordinance could limit eligibility for participation in the program to applicants who have been employed for a specified number of years. Otherwise, an employee would be required to have at least one year of creditable service as a member of the applicable pension system.

“These workers’ salaries are paid with taxpayer dollars, which in many cases make up the lion’s share of a local or school district budget, so cities would benefit from the employees living in the same community they work because they would be able to recover some of these costs in the form of property taxes,” added Senator Turner. “It would also be beneficial to the local economy, since it would result in money being spent on goods and services that may otherwise have been purchased elsewhere.”

The bill passed by a vote of 8-5 and now heads to the full Senate.