Byram council rejects petition

| 14 Mar 2012 | 03:07

    Coalition at odds with council over higher-spending ordinance BY DANIEL FITZSIMMONS BYRAM — Byram Township attorney Tom Collins said a petition that was brought by a coalition of Byram residents to repeal a higher-spending budget ordinance is misguided because such an ordinance isn't subject to repeal through a referendum. The petition was initiated under the Faulkner Act by a coalition of five Byram residents who gathered 166 percent of the signatures needed to comply with the act. It was prompted by what the coalition sees as a pattern of unnecessary spending in the township. State budget law says that if a municipality seeks to break the budget-cap mandate - this year at 2.5 percent of the prior year's budget - that they automatically have to go to 3.5 percent. For the past decade, Byram has passed an ordinance that allows it to exceed the state-mandated budget cap. This year, the ordinance was passed by a slim one-vote margin. In a letter to the council, township attorney Tom Collins said that budget ordinances aren't subject to repeal through a Faulkner Act referendum because budget ordinances take place immediately. "(The Faulkner Act) would seem only to apply to ordinances that do not take effect until twenty days after the time of their final passage and approval...Budget ordinances, however, cannot be suspended from taking effect, because they already have taken effect. Thus, they do not fit within the referendum scheme, and it is clear that the Legislature did not intend that they be subject to the power of referendum," wrote Collins in his letter. Collins' letter also cited case precedence that he said bolsters his position. For a copy of Collins' letter to the council, click here. “Oh definitely,” said coalition spokesperson Harvey Roseff, when asked whether or not the petitioners will take the matter to court. According to Roseff, the coalition had legal experts review their case and expected the council to "hide behind their lawyer" from the beginning. "But this doesn't need to go to court," said Roseff. "The town should be listening to the public." Collins said he is confident in the strength of his opinion should the matter go to court. The coalition has not provided any legal precedence that would allow for the budget ordinance to be repealed through a Faulkner Act referendum, according to Collins. When asked if the council was wary of opposing a petition that has popular support, Collins said, "It isnt that the council is resisting (the petition), the law does not allow a referendum on the budget ordinance." Collins said the township respects the interests of the voters, but “we also respect and operate pursuant to the laws of the state of New Jersey.”