Could consolidation among some of New Jersey’s 566 municipalities bring taxpayer relief? Budgetary struggles statewide are leading citizens and elected officials to wonder.
“We’re all working to try to make an equitable, efficient system, but, clearly, 566 redundant structures performing 80 to 90 percent of the same services is unsustainable,” said former Long Hill Township Mayor Gina Genovese, executive director of the nonprofit organization Courage to Connect NJ. “Frankly, it’s a burden none of us can afford anymore,” Genovese said. “We can’t keep heading on the course we’re on; we have to make significant changes.” Courage to Connect NJ was founded by Genovese as a resource to educate elected officials and the public about the expensive impact of over-reliance on “home rule” — and the potential efficiencies to be found through resident-supported municipal consolidation. In Cumberland, Salem and Gloucester counties, approximately 511,270 residents live in a total of 53 municipalities. But only 14 of these tri-county municipalities host populations with more than 10,000 residents, and nearly half the townships and boroughs have fewer than 4,000 residents. “Fragmentation is never the way,” Genovese said. “Consolidation has been talked about in New Jersey for over 100 years — this is absolutely not a new idea.”