Borough City, New Jersey: The Perfect Town
New Jersey is a confusing place. There is no getting around the fact that a good majority of things in this state do not make sense. It has a town called West New York? (Some disgruntled critics would say the entire state is just West New York). It has a borough called Belmar and another called BelmaWr? It has six municipalities all named Washington?
But the waters get especially muddied (with pharmaceutical pollution no doubt) when people hear about municipalities such as Neptune City…which is technically a town, and Allentown…which is technically a borough, and that there are actually legal entities called villages in New Jersey.
Source: Ad Meskens, Wikimedia
Name clearly does not mean much in The Garden State (also ironic given the fact that we have so many factories here). However, if a New Jerseyan ever wondered what makes his/her municipality one of the five governmental entities in New Jersey—a borough, a township, a town, a city, or a village—allow me to briefly tell the differences between each and hopefully clarify what New Jersey leaves covered in smog.
Originally, the New Jersey city was supposed to be a large hub consisting of a robust population, surrounded by smaller entities known as boroughs, towns, and villages. Unlike other states such as Virginia, all land in New Jersey is incorporated. Therefore, the spaces and rural areas in between these clusters of people were divided up into large segments of land known as townships. Besides these roots however, and contrary to popular belief, the forms of government have little to nothing to do with population size; instead it mostly has to do with style of rule.
- Borough: Starting with the borough is the most appropriate given that it is the most common type of local government in New Jersey—over 200 municipalities use it. The borough came about with the Borough Act of 1878 and was later revised by the Borough Act of 1987. Its main features include 6 council members and a mayor, all popularly elected by the citizens. The mayor has a 4-year term while the council members have 3-year terms. The borough government presents a relatively good balance of power as the mayor votes to break ties in the council and the council can override the mayor’s veto with a two-thirds majority vote. Still, most people refer to this type of government as the weak-mayor-strong-council form.
- Township: A little less than one-third of the municipalities in New Jersey are townships. It is also the oldest form of government in the state. A township sports 3 to 5 members of a committee that are popularly elected to 3-year terms. This Township Committee then elects the mayor for a 1-year term. The mayor then chairs the committee and carries a vote in its proceedings.
- Town: The Town Act of 1895 was the genesis for the town label in New Jersey. Only a handful of municipalities in New Jersey have town as their governmental form. The act was later revised under the Town Act of 1988. In a town, the mayor and the council are popularly elected. The mayor is elected to a 2-year or sometimes 3-year term and 8 councilmen are elected for 2-year terms. The mayor has a voice and a vote on the council and the council can override the mayor’s veto by a two-thirds majority vote.
- City: The city first came about in New Jersey around 1897. The final version of what a city government should look like, however, did not come about until 1987. The mayor is popularly elected to a 4-year term and has a tiebreaker vote in council. The mayor also serves as the head of the police department in the city form of government. The council has 7 members, 6 of which are from particular sections of the city known as wards and are elected for 3-year terms. There is then a councilman at-large elected to a 4-year term.
- Village: The village is the least used type of New Jersey government. It is virtually the same as the township form of government with slight alterations. In a village, the council is called the Board of Trustees and its members are popularly elected. They then elect a President of the Board, the village equivalency of a mayor.
Source: Ajay Tallam, Wikimedia
To make matters even more complicated, New Jersey made 6 additional forms of government that can be chosen by any of the 5 types of government. This translates into the potential for a municipality to be a township in name, but have a completely different governmental structure than the one shared above. However, this is a start to understanding where the original 5 names stemmed from and how they might be used today. It is in my opinion that things have gotten so complicated in local New Jersey government, that not even the New Jersey State League of Municipalities can explain it effortlessly. But just in case they can, here is a link to their official website.