When Can an Inter-local or Shared Services Agreement be Invalidated?
In this case the trial court invalidated an inter-local services agreement regarding animal control services on the grounds that it did not provide for sufficient animal control coverage and services for the Townships (West Windsor and East Windsor).
The relevant statute states that a municipality must appoint an appropriate certified animal control officer to provide relevant services. The townships argued that their arrangement met such statutory qualifications but the trial court did not agree. Ultimately, the appellate court affirmed the decision, agreeing with the trial court.
The inter-local services agreement itself was relatively straightforward: West Windsor did not renew the contract of its own dedicated Animal Control Officer (“ACO”) and contracted to utilize East Windsor’s ACO on an as-needed basis. The agreement further stipulated that East Windsor and West Windsor would communicate and relay such need through their respective police departments.
Thereafter, West Windsor’s police chief issued a directive/memorandum issuing guidelines relating to animal-related issues such as how police in West Windsor could dispose of dead animals found, the treatment of loose dogs, and the like. Only the last guideline stated that “when in doubt” East Windsor should be called to utilize their ACO.
The citizens that brought forth the declaratory judgment argued that West Windsor therefore were effectively utilizing their police department as their primary animal control rather than a certified ACO. They relied on the specific language of the Police Department Memorandum as proof for such contentions as well as the statute requiring the use of a certified ACO.
The trial court Judge (Jacobson) stated that although she agreed the municipalities had the right to enter into such a shared services agreement, she disagreed with its implementation after reviewing the relevant health code statutes. The judge also noted that police officers are not trained specifically for ACO duties, particularly potentially important matters such as identifying potential rabies vectors. In sum, the Judge found that the minimum requirements and protections required by the relevant statute were not met, and thus invalidated the inter-local services agreement between East and West Windsor.
This unpublished case provides the basic takeaway that when crafting shared services agreements between municipalities, it’s not enough to have both parties agree—such agreements must also be consistent with relevant law. In this specific case the courts invalidated the agreement despite the legal requirement for judicial deference to local municipalities–who are given latitude as “experts” of their own municipalities to (within reason) run their municipalities as they see appropriate.
Carl Taylor Law, LLC: New Jersey Local Government Law
Attorney Carl Taylor III, Esq., represents local municipalities and practices in the area of local government law in Central New Jersey. Carl is the former Deputy County Counsel of Somerset County. Carl can be reached at 908-237-3096 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.