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Trainor v. Burlington County Board of Chosen Freeholders

Decided: February 4, 1986.

LILLIAN M. TRAINOR, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
BURLINGTON COUNTY BOARD OF CHOSEN FREEHOLDERS, ET AL., DEFENDANTS



Haines, A.j.s.c.

Haines

The Burlington County Board of Elections certified its 1986 budget to the Burlington County Board of Freeholders on December 20, 1985. This action was then pending. The various issues raised were resolved, as reported in Trainor v. Burlington County Board of Freeholders, 200 N.J. Super. 288 (Law Div.1984) with the exception of plaintiffs' demand for a declaratory judgment determining the right of the freeholders to modify the certified budget. It is plaintiffs' position that the freeholders must accept the budget and appropriate money accordingly, that any challenge to the budget must be undertaken by filing an action in lieu of prerogative writs in this court, not by unilateral action of the freeholders.

In years past the freeholders have modified the election board's budget without objection because the latter has been unable to act. It has been deadlocked. The two Democrat members who would have objected were always frustrated by the vote of the two Republican members who did not object. A similar scenario is in progress this year. The freeholders admit that they are not in agreement with the certified budget and that the differences have not been resolved. The likelihood of a deadlocked election board with respect to the budget issue is high. Indeed, that board's deadlock caused this suit to be filed. See Trainor, supra, 200 N.J. Super. at 293-295. The freeholders will act on the budget tomorrow.

Relief by way of declaratory judgment is appropriate. The requirements are set forth in N.J. Ass'n for Retarded Citizens v. Human Services, 89 N.J. 234 (1982):

The Declaratory Judgment Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:16-50 to -62 is remedial legislation entitled to liberal construction and administration, N.J.S.A. 2A:16-51. Its

purpose is to end uncertainty about the legal rights and duties of the parties to litigation in controversies which have not yet reached the stage at which the parties seek a coercive remedy. We have held that a declaratory judgment may be rendered under N.J.S.A. 2A:16-53 where there is an actual controversy between the parties which involves differing views on the meaning of applicable statutory provisions. [at 241-242; citations omitted]

Plaintiffs rely upon N.J.S.A. 19:45-4 which provides in pertinent part as follows:

All costs, charges and expenses incurred by the . . . county board . . . in carrying out the provisions of this title and the salaries of the members of the county board . . ., salaries and compensation for extra service of the clerk and other employees of the county board . . . shall be paid by the county upon certification by the . . . county board. . . .

This is the only provision in the election law relating to the present issue, an issue not previously addressed by the courts.

The board of elections is an autonomous body. Trainor, supra, 200 N.J. Super. at 296. Its members are appointed by the Governor. N.J.S.A. 19:6-18. Burlington County has an election board and a superintendent of elections. They are responsible for the proper conduct of all elections held in that county. Neither can operate without funds which must be provided by the board of freeholders. Thus, the statute provides that the election board's expenses " shall be paid by the county upon certification by the . . . county board. . . ." Emphasis supplied.

This arrangement is described in Sewell v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of Hudson County, 126 N.J.L. 186 (Sup.Ct.1941), in the case of superintendents of elections who are subject to a similar statute, as one designed "to prevent the offices of the Superintendent of Elections and Commissioner of Registration from being financially crippled by an unsympathetic or a hostile board." Id. at 189. The statute, therefore, must be read as requiring the board of freeholders to accept the election board's certified budget without modification and to appropriate funds accordingly, unless it successfully challenges ...


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