Mercer County moves away from title of freeholder

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The Mercer County Board of Chosen Freeholders will now go by the term county commissioners, since the members of the board officially adopted the title change in its last meeting of 2020.

Through an ordinance adopted on Dec. 17, the county’s governing body amended the administrative code changing all references of freeholder to the new title of commissioner.

“Costs to the county resulting from the changeover will be mostly for hard-copy stationery and printed materials, and while it won’t be zero it’s not anticipated to be a major expense,” Mercer County Director of Communications Julie Willmot said.

The commissioners amending of the administrative code follows Gov. Phil Murphy’s August signing of state legislation eliminating the freeholder title statewide. Earlier this summer, state officials had signaled the potential elimination of the term freeholder in July before Murphy made the phasing out of the term official on Aug. 21.

The title officially changes to commissioner as of Jan. 1 across the state. The bill signed by Murphy required all boards of chosen freeholders to be known as boards of county commissioners within one year of Jan. 1, 2021.

Counties statewide will be changing signs on county buildings, parks and stationery.

However, the signed legislation would not require Mercer County and the rest of the counties to update or replace signs or other writings by Jan. 1, if doing so requires county funds. They can be updated the next time they would need to be replaced.

New Jersey had been the only state across the country to still use the term freeholder as the title for elected officials running county government. County governing bodies in other states are also called county commissioners.

The Old English term freeholder refers to an individual who owned an estate or land, free of debt, according to Mercer County’s website.

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