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"When are we going to acknowledge as mature, reasonable adults that we have too long tolerated a municipal framework that represents the opposite of everything this century has learned about effective management, efficient control and economy of scale."

Alan J. Karcher,
Multiple Municipal Madness

Courage to Connect NJ

Courage to Connect New Jersey Lays Out Framework for Towns to Save Money By Connecting Municipalities Under One Administration

BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - On paper, the concept is fairly simple – New Jersey towns facing elimination of, or huge cuts, in state aid, should explore connecting multiple municipalities under one administration for the sake of cost savings.

The problem, according to Gina Genovese, the executive director of Courage to Connect New Jersey, who spoke with The Alternative Press after her presentation at the Berkeley Heights Library on Wednesday night, is that some towns are quicker to make decisions based on image than the substance.

“Loss of town identity is a huge fear,” Genovese said. “We need to discuss town identity (in order to make progress).”

Courage to Connect has a tall order. It’s a non-profit that exists to create awareness of the potential for the consolidation of municipalities that are often fraught with political fears and pride.

While readers of The Alternative Press and other news outlets have read quite a bit about shared services in municipalities recently, Genovese says that shared services is more of a band aid while amputation is really what is needed. It’s no longer enough for two or three towns to share emergency dispatch systems, for example.

“I don’t think it’s a choice any longer, most towns have to do this,” said Genovese, who is a former mayor of Long Hill Township. “The only way to bring about real, lasting, change is for five to 10 municipalities to join forces.”

This article originally ran in The Alternative Press. To download a full PDF, click here.

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N.J. local taxes jump an average of 7 percent in past year

Photo by: John O'Boyle/The Star-Ledger

When New Jersey was first admitted to the Union in 1787, it had 104 municipalities, far fewer than the 566 towns currently in existence. Gina Genovese, a former mayor of Long Hill Township and advocate of consolidating municipal governments, said that efforts to control local issues such as water management, alcohol prohibition and rural identity led to the spike in municipalities, a trend that eventually subsided with the economic constraints of the Great Depression. But in 1970, Gov. William Cahill started the first state commission to look into consolidating municipalities, beginning a debate that has continued to this day, she said.

But for change to take hold, it can’t start with legislation from Trenton, said Assembly Deputy Speaker John F. McKeon (D-Essex); it must begin with changing the mindset of residents.

“New Jerseyans value the system we’ve grown up under very much,” McKeon said. “Either we recognize that property taxes on some level are going to continue to grow, or we greatly diminish the services that we’ve all become used to.”

This article originally appeared in The Star Ledger. To download a full PDF, click here.

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DCA’s Rejection of Community Petition Halts Efforts for Property Tax Relief in NJ

Recently, the state Department of Community of Affairs (DCA) rejected an application by the citizens of Merchantville and the Township of Cherry Hill to study municipal consolidation.  The ruling was surprising, disappointing and – most importantly – wrong.

At a time when New Jersey is facing a severe fiscal crisis, we need every cost-saving option at our disposal.  It’s remarkable that the DCA would turn its back on a grassroots effort to reduce local expenses and eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy.  Once again, Trenton is getting in the way of much-needed reform.

The DCA’s decision turned on two clauses of a 2007 law creating a new form of consolidation, called “Local Option Municipal Consolidation.”  The law reads: “[I]n order to encourage municipalities to increase efficiency through municipal consolidation for the purpose of reducing expenses borne by their property taxpayers, more flexible options need to be available to the elected municipal officials and voters.”  In addition, the law states that its provisions “shall be liberally construed” to encourage municipal consolidation.

The state legislators who wrote this bill four years ago wanted to encourage consolidation however possible.  They allowed towns to initiate the consolidation study process in one of two ways: by governing body resolution or by voter petition.  But, in a narrow and technical ruling, the DCA decided that all of the towns seeking to create a joint study commission must use the same form of approval – in other words, each town must obtain approval by resolution, or each town must obtain approval by petition.  For various reasons, Merchantville and Cherry Hill needed to file a “hybrid” or “mix-and-match” application, whereby one town obtains approval by resolution and the other by petition.  But that wasn’t good enough for the DCA.  The Department rejected the application, in direct violation of the law’s requirement that it offer “flexible options” to towns considering consolidation.

This article originally ran on PolitickerNJ. To download the full PDF, click here

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State bureaucrats are blocking towns’ merger

Recently, the state Department of Community Affairs rejected an application by the citizens of Merchantville and the Township of Cherry Hill to study municipal consolidation. The ruling was surprising, disappointing and – most importantly – wrong.

At a time when New Jersey is facing a severe fiscal crisis, we need every cost-saving option at our disposal. It’s remarkable that the DCA would turn its back on a grass-roots effort to reduce local expenses and eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy. Once again, Trenton is getting in the way of much-needed reform.

The DCA’s decision turned on two clauses of a 2007 law creating a new form of consolidation, called “Local Option Municipal Consolidation.” The law reads: “In order to encourage municipalities to increase efficiency through municipal consolidation for the purpose of reducing expenses borne by their property taxpayers, more flexible options need to be available to the elected municipal officials and voters.” In addition, the law states that its provisions “shall be liberally construed” to encourage municipal consolidation.

The state legislators who wrote this bill four years ago wanted to encourage consolidation however possible. They allowed towns to initiate the consolidation study process in one of two ways: by governing body resolution or by voter petition. But, in a narrow and technical ruling, the DCA decided that all of the towns seeking to create a joint study commission must use the same form of approval – in other words, each town must obtain approval by resolution, or each town must obtain approval by petition.

This article originally ran in the Press of Atlantic City. To download a full PDF, click here

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What’s really holding up municipal consolidation

RECENTLY, the state Department of Community of Affairs rejected an application by Merchantville and the township of Cherry Hill to study municipal consolidation. The ruling was surprising, disappointing and – most important – wrong.

At a time when New Jersey is facing a severe fiscal crisis, we need every cost-saving option at our disposal. It’s remarkable that the DCA would turn its back on a grass-roots effort to reduce local expenses and eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy. Once again, Trenton is getting in the way of much-needed reform.

The DCA’s decision turned on two clauses of a 2007 law creating a new form of consolidation, called “Local Option Municipal Consolidation.” The law reads: “[I]n order to encourage municipalities to increase efficiency through municipal consolidation for the purpose of reducing expenses borne by their property taxpayers, more flexible options need to be available to the elected municipal officials and voters.” In addition, the law states that its provisions “shall be liberally construed” to encourage municipal consolidation.

The state legislators who wrote this bill four years ago wanted to encourage consolidation however possible. They allowed municipalities to initiate the consolidation study process in one of two ways: by governing body resolution or by voter petition. But, in a narrow and technical ruling, the DCA decided that all of the municipalities seeking to create a joint study commission must use the same form of approval – in other words, each must obtain approval by resolution, or each must obtain approval by petition.

For various reasons, Merchantville and Cherry Hill needed to file a “hybrid” or “mix-and-match” application, whereby one municipality obtains approval by resolution and the other by petition. But that wasn’t good enough for the DCA. The department rejected the application, in direct violation of the law’s requirement that it offer “flexible options” to municipalities considering consolidation.

This might seem like an esoteric discussion of legal interpretation. But it’s these tiny technical issues that get in the way of real reform. And given Governor Christie’s goal of fixing this state, it’s amazing that he has allowed his bureaucrats to stymie progress.

This op-ed originally ran in The Record. To download a full PDF, click here.

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A sign that’s needed from the state: Merge

Quietly, history is being made in South Jersey: Activists from Merchantville, a Camden County nook of 3,800 people, soon will become the state’s first citizens to initiate a municipal merger — that is, if New Jersey officials eventually get out of the way.

Citing a dusty 2007 law, the Merchantville residents collected signatures on a petition requesting a study on a possible merger with Cherry Hill, its massive neighbor with 70,000 residents. The Cherry Hill Council passed a resolution, welcoming the idea.

In August, the group submitted an application to the Department of Community Affairs, but the agency rejected it last week. Officials said the law allows petitions from each town or a resolution from both councils, but no mixing-and-matching. State Sen. Robert Gordon (D-Bergen) has proposed new legislation that permits the a la carte approach.

“The purpose of the original law was to allow citizens the ability to step over mayors and councils who only want to protect their turf,” Gordon said. “We just never foresaw this stumbling block (one petition, one resolution), so we need to fix it.”

If the bill passes, as expected, next month, the Merchantville group will resubmit its application.

The Merchantville activists see trouble ahead: State aid is shrinking, the town surplus has evaporated and costs are spiraling. Hamlets are quaint, but, as money tightens, they don’t make financial sense.

This article originally appeared in the Star-Ledger. To download a full PDF, click here.

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Courier Post Op-Ed: “DCA wrong to shoot down merger study”

Merchantville and Cherry Hill should get state help in examining potential savings.

Maybe the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, the primary state agency that works with municipal governments, doesn’t want to see any towns merge. Maybe DCA Commissioner Lori Grifa or someone else in the DCA isn’t eager to see towns start merging because if there are fewer towns, there might be less work for the DCA to do, and then the DCA could get downsized.

Perhaps that’s far-fetched, but the DCA’s rigidity in its decision last week to deny an application for Merchantville and Cherry Hill to study the possibility of merging is a head-scratcher.

The idea behind passing a state law in 2007 to encourage municipalities to explore potential mergers and save taxpayers dollars was a sound one. Equally sound was having the DCA provide money for towns interested in researching a merger to conduct a formal study. After all, it would be impossible to ask voters in two or more towns to go the polls and vote on merging their governments into one unless they had detailed data on exactly how much money would be saved. Thus, the need for studies.

So then, we come back to the DCA’s decision regarding Merchantville and Cherry Hill. In tiny Merchantville, which abuts the northwest corner of Cherry Hill, an organized group of citizens fed up with rising property taxes has pushed for a merger with Cherry Hill. There are other motivations at play, as well, not the least of which would be a school district merger and a chance for Merchantville kids to move on eventually to Cherry Hill’s highly rated high schools.

The citizens group, Merchantville Connecting for the Future, met the benchmark of getting signatures from more than 10 percent of the registered voters in the borough who voted in the 2009 election.


This article originally ran in the Courier Post. To download a full PDF, click here.

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Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Kevin Riordan discusses Merchantville-Cherry Hill merger

“We interpret the [municipal consolidation] law a little differently than DCA,” says Gina Genovese, executive director of the nonprofit organization Courage to Connect New Jersey, which is lobbying for consolidations statewide.”This is an issue that everyone has said for years the public is not going to go for, and here you have a group that says, ‘We think we can be part of the solution.’ And they were shot down,” says Genovese, adding that Courage to Connect would ask the state to review the decision.

Merchantville Mayor Frank North, however, thinks DCA made the right call. “We support a study, but it shouldn’t be done without the governing body being involved,” he says. “Let’s do this. But let’s do it right.”

Merchantville Connecting, the mayor adds, “is doing their own thing.”

Cherry Hill’s resolution did not cite “any particular entity” within Merchantville but rather indicated the township’s willingness to consider consolidation, says Dan Keashen, spokesman for Mayor Bernie Platt.

“We were asked to dance, and we want to [dance] with whoever the proper entity is,” he says. “If it’s the governing body, fine. If it’s the petitioners, fine.”

With the prospective partners (and their parents in Trenton) so cautious, I won’t be surprised if this dance takes awhile. Maybe another 58 years.

This article originally ran in the Philadelphia Inquirer. To download a full PDF, click here

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Agency shoots down Cherry Hill-Merchantville merger attempt

The state Department of Community Affairs has formally declined an effort to study whether Merchantville and Cherry Hill can consolidate municipal services.

In a letter sent to officials of both towns — as well as the grass-roots group seeking the merger — the state said proper procedures were not followed in seeking the study.

The consolidation plan was initiated by a Merchantville group, Merchantville Connecting for the Future, after continued hikes in property taxes and reductions in municipal services.

The DCA said Monday the application Merchantville and Cherry Hill sent does not meet state application requirements.

A group of Merchantville residents sent a petition to the DCA, while Cherry Hill submitted a resolution to undertake a consolidation study. But the law requires the same method of application from each community — either resolutions from each municipality or a petition circulated by a representative committee of voters from both towns, Lisa Ryan, spokeswoman for the DCA, said in September, when the applications were submitted.


This article originally appeared in the Courier Post. To download a full PDF, click here

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Gina Genovese speaks on Merchantville and Cherry Hill merger proposal in the Philadelphia Inquirer

Merchantville Borough and Cherry Hill Township still may come together as one municipality, but the courtship will likely take longer than residents expected.An application from a grassroots group of borough residents trying to take the first step toward merging the tiny municipality with its larger neighbor was rejected this week by the state Department of Community Affairs (DCA).

New Jersey’s Local Option Consolidation Act does not allow for a “hybrid application” resulting from the action of the governing body of one municipality and a citizens group from another municipality, said Thomas Neff, chairman of the state’s local finance board and acting director of the DCA’s Division of Local Government Services, in a letter to the group Merchantville Connecting for the Future.

The application “will not be considered for that reason,” Neff said.

State officials said the application did not meet statutory requirements mandating participation of two municipal governing bodies or two committees representing registered voters.

A committee is required to have petitions signed by at least 10 percent of the voters in the last general election.

The law “allows people, not just elected officials, to initiate municipal consolidation,” said Bob Stocker, a member of Merchantville Connecting for the Future. It allows for creation of a commission to study consolidation “based on either a signed petition of 10 percent of the voters or a council resolution.”

Stocker said his group was dumbfounded by the state’s action and was working with Courage to Connect New Jersey, a nonprofit that encourages consolidation, to explore legal options.

The group had gathered 300 signatures in Merchantville, more than the number required, and received support from the Cherry Hill mayor and council. The application was submitted in the summer and rejected Wednesday.

“The law explicitly provides towns with a lot of flexibility to undertake a consolidation study however they see fit,” said Gina Genovese, executive director of Courage to Connect New Jersey.


This article originally appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer. To download a full PDF, click here

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Chad Goerner interview on NJTV:




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Princeton's new Mayor Liz Lempert addresses the community:

Mayor Liz Lempert Video (click image to watch on nj.com; video is below slideshow)


Princeton Township Mayor Chad Goerner featured on NJTV:




Executive Director of CtoCNJ Discusses Consolidation on NJTV:

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