Senate Delays Vote On Developers' Impact Fees If The Measure Is Passed, Towns Will Be Able To Get Home Builders To Help Pay For New Schools And Sewers.

Posted: October 26, 1999

TRENTON — State Senate leaders postponed a vote yesterday on a bill that would allow towns to charge home builders for some of the cost of new schools and sewers.

Known as impact fees, such payments have long been touted by school and municipal officials as a means of keeping the lid on property taxes.

Senate President Donald T. DiFrancesco (R., Union) said he still intended to put the bill up for a vote on Nov. 15, after a committee review.

But supporters warned that the delay might jeopardize the measure's chances of passing the Assembly before the legislative session expires at the end of the year.

Barbara Bohi, lobbyist for the New Jersey School Boards Association, blamed the delay on last-minute pressure from the deep-pocketed New Jersey Builders Association, perennially among the top donors to legislative campaigns.

"The builders killed it," Bohi said. "Unfortunately, the taxpayers of New Jersey lost out on this one."

Not so, countered Carol Ann Giancarli, the lobbyist for the builders, blaming the delay on problems in the bill's language. Moreover, she said, the bill currently would allow for "exorbitant" fees that would be passed along to home buyers, potentially crowding middle-class families out of the market.

"We didn't have to do any lobbying on this bill," Giancarli said. "All we had to do was get the senators to read it."

Giancarli scoffed at the notion that donations from builders had somehow swayed legislators, noting that the well-heeled New Jersey Education Association was on the other side of the debate.

Such is the war of words on a legislative session day in the state's capital, when everyone professes to be doing something to help middle-class taxpayers.

Sen. William E. Schluter (R., Hunterdon), the bill's sponsor, disputed Giancarli's contention that the measure allows for exorbitant fees. The bill contains language that would prohibit "unreasonable" fees.

Giancarli contended that such language was too vague. A competing bill endorsed by the builders contains a stricter standard, requiring them to pay only fees that are "directly related to and attributable to" new development.

The Schluter measure heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee on Nov. 8. DiFrancesco said that move was appropriate because the bill would appropriate $150,000 to establish a state commission to review proposed impact fees.

William Dressel, lobbyist for the New Jersey League of Municipalities, said he remained optimistic about the Schluter bill.

"I'm viewing this as basically a pause," Dressel said, "and we'll be back on track."

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