Fire district elections frequently see anemic voter turnout and the shift would save money and boost voter participation
TRENTON — Senator Shirley Turner introduced legislation today that would allow municipalities to move local fire district elections to November, a shift that would produce financial savings and boost voter participation.
Turner has advocated moving the elections for years, and her position was strengthened by a recent state comptroller report that found that less than 2 percent of registered voters participated in fire district elections in 2012, and in one district, the turnout was barely more than ½ percent. Comparatively, general elections in the same districts turned out an average of 27 percent of the voters, the comptroller found.
“There’s no reason to hold elections in New Jersey with such little turnout when another option exists, especially when that option results in savings,” said Turner (D-Mercer, Hunterdon). “Moving these elections to November not only makes common sense, it makes financial sense as well.”
Under the bill, voters could put the decision up for a voter referendum or the municipality — or municipalities if the fire district crosses into another town — could move the election by resolution.
New Jersey law allows municipalities to adopt an ordinance establishing a territory within the municipality as a fire district. A fire district is governed by a Board of Fire Commissioners who are elected by voters at an annual election on the third Saturday in February. The Board submits an annual budget to the voters for approval at the same election.
Turner’s bill would also eliminate votes on fire district budgets that do not exceed the levy cap and establishes a state commission to look at the feasibility of consolidating some of the state’s fire districts and whether it would present cost savings.
“In today’s austere times, every dollar counts. We must look at ways to save money and the commission will weigh those savings against any potential drawbacks and make recommendations to the Legislature,” said Turner.