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-- Number and population distribution
In 2016, New Jersey has 565 municipalities. Unlike some states which have territory not under the jurisdiction of municipal governments, New Jersey's area is completely covered by municipalities incorporated under state law. The most recent municipalities to merge were Princeton Borough and Princeton Township, which in 2013 formed the new Town of Princeton through approval of a referendum by voters in each municipality. Overall, New Jersey has the highest number of local governments (including counties, municipalities, school districts and other special purpose districts and authorities) per square mile in the nation with 20.4 per square mile. New Jersey ranks twenty-fourth among the states in the number of local governments and special districts with 1,344 active (including 234 special districts) as of June 30, 2012, according to the US Census Bureau.
Nearly one-third of the state's municipalities are less than two square miles in area and over 100 have populations of 2,000 or fewer residents. In the 2010 census, the municipalities with the smallest populations were Tavistock (5); Pine Valley (12); Walpack Township (16); and Teterboro (67). The largest municipalities in area are Galloway Township in Atlantic County (115.2 square miles); Hamilton Township in Atlantic County (113 square miles); Washington Township in Burlington County (102.9 square miles); and Jackson Township in Ocean County (100.1 square miles). The average land area of a municipality in the state is about 15 square miles.
The most recent survey of local governments taken by the US Census Bureau in 2012 reported that New Jersey had 305,631 full-time local government employees and a total payroll over $1.7 billion. The highest number of employees were in education (197,339) and police (26,441).
* 2012 Census of Governments, US Census Bureau
* Number of Local Governments by State, Governing
* County and Municipal Web Sites, State of New Jersey
* New Jersey Municipal Asset Profiler, Rowan University Geospatial Research Lab
Historically, the proliferation of local governments in New Jersey was largely caused by the secession of communities from larger cities and towns, often due to complaints that the municipal government was not responding to specific concerns. In some cases, developed sections of towns resisted spending for infrastructure such as paved streets, sewers or street lights in outlying areas, thus contributing to movements for separation and incorporation of new municipalities. The late Alan Karcher, a speaker of the General Assembly and 1985 gubernatorial candidate, traced the history of the formation of the state's municipalities in his book published in 1998, New Jersey's Municipal Madness.
-- Government types
Currently, there are five distinct types of incorporated municipalities. Each type of municipality has equal legal standing, rights, and powers as any other type or form. Each of the five types has an associated form of government of exactly the same title. By default municipalities have the form of government which corresponds to their type, i.e. a Township has the Township form of government. A municipality may choose, however, a different form of government if its citizens do not wish to operate under the form that matches its type.
The borough form of government is New Jersey's most common, now used by over 200 of the state's municipalities. In boroughs, the mayor presides over the council, but votes only to break ties. The mayor may veto ordinances subject to override by 2/3 majority of council. With the approval of the council, the mayor appoints subordinate officers.
The town form of government dates back to the late 19th century when towns were first incorporated in the state. In this form of government, a mayor is elected at-large plus eight councilmen-–two from each of four wards. The mayor presides over council meetings and votes as a member of the council. The mayor has veto power over ordinances that can be overridden by a two-thirds vote of the council. All appointments to municipal offices are performed by the council. Currently, only nine of the state's 15 towns still have the town form of government, with most of the rest opting to switch to one of the newer optional forms.
The township form of government has a group of elected officials (the township committee) which serves as both the executive and legislative authority. The township form is one of the oldest and is derived from the town meeting form of government used in New England, where the township committee has similar functions to the board of selectmen. The township committee has either three or five members elected at-large. Each year, the committee chooses one of its members to be the "mayor," becoming the moderator for meetings of the township committee but having no special powers. In general, all legislative and executive powers are exercised by the committee as a whole. The committee, however, may appoint an administrator to oversee day-to-day operations of the municipality. The township form of government is only available to municipalities that are of the township type. Of the 246 townships in the state, the township form of government is used by 144.
The village form of government consists of a five-member Board of Trustees elected for staggered three-year terms. The board selects a president and a treasurer from among the members. New incorporations under this form were halted by law after 1961. Only four municipalities retain the Village type of government (Loch Arbour, Ridgefield Park, Ridgewood and South Orange), but none of them still use the Village form of government.
* Types of New Jersey Municipal Government, New Jersey State League of Municipalities
Local Property Tax (N.J.S.A. 54:4-1 et seq.)
In 2015, according to the state Department of Community Affairs, New Jersey's average residential property tax bill, already the highest in the nation with the average of $2,127 for all states, grew over the year by 2.4% to $8,353. Total property taxes billed statewide by local governments were a combined $27.7 billion, an increase of $537 million over the previous year and twice the level in 2000 of $13.5 billion. The highest average property tax paid by homeowners in 2015 were in Tavistock ($30,723, note population of only 5 persons in 2010 Census); Millburn ($22,735); Loch Arbour ($21,663); Alpine ($20,888); and Mountain Lakes ($19,336).
In 2014, school tax levies rose 2.2%; municipal tax levies increased 2.6%; and county tax levies went up by 2%. In recent years, school taxes have accounted for slightly over half of the total property tax bill. The average residential property value in the state in 2014 was $295,869, a gain of 1% from a year earlier but still below the peak of $299,014 recorded in 2011. In fiscal year 2012, New Jersey ranked highest of all states in the amount of property taxes collected per $1,000 of income, with $54.94 per $1,000 compared to the average of all states of $33.92 per $1,000. On average, municipalities spend 55% of their revenues on schools, with the remainder going to such expenses as police, public works and administration.
All real property located in the state is subject to property tax on the basis of its market value unless specifically exempted by statute. Exemptions include property owned by the state and local government and public authorities, as well as property dedicated to qualified religious, charitable, educational and healthcare uses. Limited exemptions or abatements are also provided to developments in designated urban renewal projects authorized by municipal governing bodies. Qualified farmland is taxed based upon its productive capabilities when actively devoted to agricultural or horticultural uses.
The assessed valuation of real property is based on 100% of its fair market value, which is defined as what a willing, knowledgeable buyer would pay a willing, knowledgeable seller on the open market at a bona fide sale as of the statutory October 1 pretax year assessment date. The tax on the property is then calculated by multiplying the general tax rate by the assessed value of the particular property. Real property taxes are assessed and collected by the assessors and collectors of the respective municipalities but are subject to supervision and review by the county boards of taxation. Assessments may be appealed by taxpayers to the board of taxation in each county, and a judgment of the tax board may be further appealed to the Tax Court of New Jersey.
* A Guide to Tax Appeal Hearings, NJ Department of the Treasury
County, municipal and school budget costs determine the amount of property tax to be paid. A municipality's general tax rate is calculated by dividing the total dollar amount it needs to raise to meet its share of the county budget and it own budget expenses by the total assessed value of all its taxable property. Property tax payments are due annually in four installments payable on February 1, May 1, August 1 and November 1.
The state also provides various special property tax relief programs for senior citizens, disabled persons and veterans which, subject to eligibility standards and income levels, may offer credits, rebates or freezes on property taxes.
* New Jersey State Constitution of 1947, Article VIII
* General Property Tax rates by County and Municipality, New Jersey Division of Taxation
* Property Tax Search by Property, State of New Jersey
* 2016’s Property Taxes by State, WalletHub.com
-- Division of Local Government Services
The Division of Local Government Services in the state Department of Community Affairs is the principal agency providing services and oversight of municipal governments. It offers technical and financial assistance in budgeting, financial reporting, joint services, purchasing, and management, and is also responsible for the review and approval of all municipal, county and fire district budgets. Among other information, the Division publishes reports on each municipality's property taxes; budgets; and state aid.
* Division of Local Government Services, New Jersey Department of Community Affairs
-- New Jersey State League of Municipalities
The New Jersey State League of Municipalities was established in 1915 by state law as a voluntary association for municipal governments to share information and serve as an advocate for their collective interests. The League holds meetings and seminars throughout the year, and represents its members on issues such as state financial aid and legislation imposing "mandates"--additional responsibilities in providing services or information without state funding to compensate for needed local spending. Its Annual Conference held each November in Atlantic City features speeches and panel discussions, along with a trade show of vendors offering products and services in such areas as information technology, waste management, public works and transportation of interest to municipal officials and administrators.
* New Jersey State League of Municipalities
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