In an effort to repeal the rent control ordinance that went into effect last month in Ocean Grove and Neptune Township, a committee of property owners has submitted a petition to have a referendum added to the November ballot.
Although other municipalities allow a binding referendum by petition under the state’s Faulkner Act, Neptune Township does not fall under that statute. At its discretion, the township committee may place a nonbinding question on the ballot, but the deadline for that has already passed, according to Neptune Township Clerk Richard J. Cuttrell.
The group of petitioners understand they are not entitled to a referendum since Neptune Township does not adhere to Faulkner Act standards, but have collected the signatures in a manner asking that the governing body honor it as if the township did.
At its Aug. 12 meeting, the Neptune Township Committee [shown above] passed an ordinance on rent control that ties rent increases to the regional consumer price index. Rental properties throughout Neptune and Ocean Grove are subject to the ordinance.
The Neptune Committee to Repeal Rent Control, a committee of petitioners who seek the referendum, collected 1320 signatures over the course of seven days under the guidelines of the Faulkner Act, according to Ron Simoncini, who is leading the effort to organize the opposition campaign with groups of local owners who “rightly feel their properties are being taken over,” he said.
Township residents Jack Green, Richard Hogan, Cindy Nelson, Raymond Huizenga and Valerie Green are on the committee of petitions for the group, according to Simoncini.
Simoncini is a communications specialist at Axiom Communications, a Secaucus NJ-based public relations firm. He is also a representative of the NJ Apartment Association.
The petitioners suggest the Neptune Township Committee “was negligent in adopting a rent control ordinance” due to ten listed factors, including a failure to examine the full costs of establishing the ordinance, a failure to examine possible impacts to property taxes and inadequate demonstration of a housing emergency it asserts is required to adopt a rent control ordinance.
Residents of a municipality that operate in a form of government that falls under the Faulkner Act have the right to initiative and referendum, which means any ordinance put into law by the governing body can be vetoed by the constituents if they adhere to certain guidelines.
By the Faulkner Act standards, petitioners are required to collect signatures from 10 percent of the total population of voters in the last general election within 20 days the ordinance is voted into law.
“Due to its organization as a township, Neptune does not fall under the guidelines for the Faulkner Act,” Cuttrell said.
Therefore, residents of the township do not have to right to petition to change any ordinance, he said.
“We understand this is a political rather than a statutory activity,” Simoncini said.
The Neptune Township committee can place a nonbinding referenda on the ballot, which would allow them to take stock in the opinion of the electorate but and would not have a definitive (or binding) impact on the ordinance as would a referenda on a ballot within a municipality that falls under the act.
However, Cuttrell also asserts the deadline has passed for submission to the county for the ballot.
“Seventy-five days before the general election you are required by the state to submit any nonbinding referendum,” he said.
The petition is currently filed with the rent control ordinance, but no further action will be taken on it, according to Cuttrell.
“According to the township attorney and clerk they have missed the 2013 deadline,” said Neptune Township Committeeman J. Randy Bishop. “They would have to go into 2014, if in fact the clerk is correct.”
If the committee that seeks the repeal had submitted the signatures within the required 75 day deadline, Bishop “would have looked into the argument with his colleagues,” he said.
“I believe that if the council were willing to make this a binding referendum the county would put it on the ballot,” said Simoncini.
The Neptune committee has already introduced an amendment to the ordinance that increases the minimum number of units needed for an exemption from 2 to 4 in an effort to exclude “small owners” from the rent control guidelines, Committee Member Mary Beth Jahn previously told the Sun. A public hearing on the matter is scheduled for Sept. 24.