Now united Princeton seeks $460K from state for consolidation costs, but reimbursement amount is unclear
This article originally appeared in the Times of Trenton. Click here to read the full article in our news section.
PRINCETON - Paving the way can be a bumpy ride sometimes.
There are the accolades and the state spotlight for being a leader, and then there’s difficulty of blazing a trail into uncharted territory.
Princeton traveled that rocky road as it consolidated last year from two towns into one.
Princeton officials hope that their struggles and lessons will serve to inform the next town that attempts the same thing — especially when it comes to financial support from the state, which promised in late 2011 that it would reimburse 20 percent of consolidation costs.
The town has discovered that the promise had all of the clarity of a concept written on a table napkin.
Three weeks ago town officials met with the state Department of Community Affairs and handed over a list of consolidation costs totaling $2.4 million. Princeton officials assumed that they’d be eligible for a repayment of around $460,000.
But despite Princeton’s itemized list of consolidation costs, there are no real guidelines on what exactly is a consolidation cost.
Does the $190,000 spent on information technology count? What about the $77,000 for new police weapons? Or the $340,000 in legal fees?
It’s unclear, DCA spokeswoman Tammori Petty said this month. That’s because no precedent has been established.
“The Department of Community Affairs has never had such an incident and we are feeling our way through this for the first time,” she said. “Basically the cost must be something that was absolutely necessary to allow for the merger and a competitive, reasonable price.”
The lack of clarity doesn’t have Princeton officials worrying that they won’t get paid, but they do hope the state will establish some good, solid guidelines.
“They’ve talked the talk, now they have to walk the walk,” council President Bernie Miller said. “I don’t think they have had any more guidelines than we did.”
Town Manager Bob Bruschi said he hopes the state will make it very clear what costs are covered under the 20 percent promise. A well-defined policy on reimbursement would encourage other towns to take the same leap that Princeton did, he said.
“It’s a small price, quite frankly, to pay,” Bruschi said. “It’s certainly not going to be the biggest item in the state budget. It’s a drop in the bucket for them,” he said.
Princeton officials said they hope the state is very generous about what it will reimburse, especially because towns are still going to pick up the biggest share of the consolidation costs.
“We hope they take a fairly liberal view toward the cost of transition,” Miller said. “Their 20 percent is a hell of a lot smaller than our 80 percent.”
There were some items that ran over budget, such as the town’s legal costs for consolidation. What was supposed to cost $180,000, ended up closer to $340,000.
But that, in part, was a product of being the first, town officials said.
When the town asked the DCA for guidance, they didn’t get much help, they said.
“They basically said, ‘Look, you guys are doing something that has not been done before; it’s new, so make your decisions,’” Miller said. “So we sought legal guidance from our own attorneys to do so.”
Scott Sillars, chairman of the transitional task force’s finance subcommittee, said he thought the talks with the DCA went well, and that state officials are in the questioning mode, scrutinizing the costs thoroughly. Sillars said he’s confident the state will do the right thing.
Part of that confidence arises from knowing that the state wants towns to consolidate and is aware that their willingness to do so will be influenced by the way Princeton is handled in this process.
“How they handle our transition costs will sort of set the framework for other municipalities. If they squeeze us on transition costs, other municipalities might get the message that the state is little less interesting in taking on consolidation,” Miller said.
Gina Genovese, executive director of Courage to Connect NJ, said Princeton is lighting the way for other municipalities to consolidate, but with that come the bumps on the road less traveled.
“That’s one of the huge inhibitors of progress in our governments is that you have to plough the path, and that’s what Princeton is coming up against,” she said. “That’s what makes it history, is doing it for the first time.
Genovese said other communities in the state, such as Scotch Plains and Fanwood, Mount Arlington and Roxbury, and Loch Arbour and Allenhurst, are all considering consolidation.
She said the only way clearer language on consolidation will happen is if communities keep doing it.
“The only way we’re going to do it is to keep doing it, and getting better at it each time,” she said. “I think that’s the only way we’re going to pave the road.”
The possibility of merging Mount Arlington and Roxbury would save a substantial amount of tax dollars and streamline services, officials say, and a public forum this week will begin exploring that possibility.
Gina Genovese, executive director of Courage to Connect New Jersey, will be the featured speaker at the forum, set for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Roxbury Public Library, to discuss proposed efforts to consolidate public schools and municipal government in Roxbury and neighboring Mount Arlington.
Genovese has been invited to present by former Roxbury school board candidates Ralph Nappi, Virginia Mushinski and Chris Rogers, who withdrew their names from the November election in order tofocus on consolidation.
Scheduled speakers will also include two members of Courage to Reconnect, a grass-roots group in Scotch Plains and Fanwood that was the first to successfully petition the state for a municipal consolidation study. The state Local Finance Board approved their application earlier this month.
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The two municipalities already share a school district, a library and have talked about merging police departments.
If the state Local Finance Board approves the citizen-driven application — the first of its kind — the towns will begin holding meetings in April. The commission would apply for grants to fund the study, according to the application.
Scotch Plains resident Fred Lange has spearheaded the effort. He formed a group, Courage to Re-Connect, about a year ago and has collected some 1,000 signatures to file the application, he said.
“I found that over 90 percent of the people in Fanwood and Scotch Plains are in favor of having a study to merge,” he said. “Overwhelming response.”
Lange’s group has a commission of five residents from each municipality. Their efforts, he hopes, will interest other taxpayers interested in cutting municipal costs.
Scotch Plains, with 23,510 residents, has a much larger population than Fanwood, with 7,316, according to the 2010 Census.
The citizen-driven model is possible because of the Local Option Municipal Consolidation Act of 2007, which outlines steps for residents to consolidate towns without local government participation.
Gina Genovese, whose group Courage to Connect New Jersey helps such efforts, said this is the first time citizens of two communities have asked for a study with no involvement from elected officials.
This article originally appeared in The Star-Ledger. Continue reading this article here.
Now a group of citizens is hoping to reunite the neighboring towns.
The grassroots Courage to Re-Connect on Wednesday submitted an application to the state Local Finance Board to create a municipal consolidation commission that would study a merger.
The residents filed their application, which included more than 1,000 signatures, under the Local Option Municipal Consolidation Act of 2007.
Organizers said the application was the first time citizens from two communities, without the backing of the local governments, have asked for a study commission.
“It made a lot of sense to merge, particularly because we already have a merged school system,” said organizer Fred Lange, a Scotch Plains resident since 1974. “Also it made a lot of sense getting rid of the redundancy and be more efficient.”
The commission must be approved by the Local Finance Board, which next meets in March.
After a commission presents its findings and recommendations, including what to name a the merged town, voters in both towns would have to approve the merger.
Last year voters Princeton Borough and Princeton Township approved a merger after decades of debate.
“The citizens are saying let’s look into this we are basically one town anyway,” said Gina Genovese of Courage to Connect N.J., which assisted Lange. “This takes courage because it never happened before. They had no support from the local government.”
This article originally appeared on MyCentralJersey.com. Continue reading here.
Courage to Connect NJ Executive Director Gina Genovese was recently featured on NJTV to discuss consolidation.
Watch Executive Director of Courage to Connect NJ Discusses Consolidation on PBS. See more from WNJT.
The second edition of a book that aims to help New Jersey municipalities merge and consolidate has been published, with updates that reflect recent legislation.
The “Connect NJ Guidebook: The Tools for Municipal Consolidation in New Jersey,” was first published in January by Courage to Connect New Jersey, a non-profit organization that focuses on community consolidation. Since Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation in April that makes it easier for towns to form consolidation commissions, its creators decided to revamp it now to include the new information.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous that New Jersey has 566 redundant municipalities,” said Gina Genovese, the executive director of Courage to Connect New Jersey and one of the book’s three authors. “We all have to work together, we have to make a sustainable structure.”
No Gloucester County municipalities are currently exploring mergers or consolidation, but Cherry Hill and Merchantville citizens have organized a group to study the concept.
Members of Merchantville Connecting for the Future, a grassroots organization, has been exploring consolidation for more than a year; however, their application to study the matter was rejected by the state Department of Community Affairs in December, prompting the new legislation.
The book focuses on a way to consolidate municipalities called “Local Option Municipal Consolidation,” which is a new form of consolidating that was created in 2007 by the state legislature.
To continue reading this article in the Gloucester County Times, click here
Advocates for the consolidation of some of New Jersey’s 566 municipalities visited the Berkeley Heights VFW at 15 Locust Avenue on Wednesday to discuss possible methods for townships to merge together and operate under a single governing body.
Gina Genovese and Wendy McCahill of Courage to Connect New Jersey, which is a grassroots consolidation initiative that is encouraging towns to consolidate, gave a presentation at the VFW that gave some insight as to how consolidation could help alleviate the current perilous financial state of New Jersey.
“Anytime you open up a paper you see the financial struggle our state is in right now,” said McCahill. “We’re all taxpayers, we continually see our bills go up and up, and we’re all like, ‘when is this going to end?’”
Genovese, a former Berkeley Heights resident and current business owner, has served in elected office in various positions, including a stint as the mayor of Long Hill Township. She encourages anyone willing to listen to consolidation ideas to examine how such ideas could help the individual towns, as well as the state as a whole.
“We’re here to do three things: we’re here to take a look at the State of New Jersey differently – is it essential to have 566 municipal and administrative structures delivering local services?,” said Genovese. “We’re here to look at our towns and communities differently – will consolidation cost us our town identity? Lastly, we need to look at ourselves as voters and tax payers. Are we helpless? Is there nothing we can do about this?”
Shared services and municipal consolidation may be hot button issues in New Jersey politics today. But that’s nothing new. As far back as 1895, just when “boroughitis” had struck northern New Jersey and new municipalities were being coined through out the state, an article appeared in “The New York Times” on the topic of consolidating the Oranges.
“By all means consolidate and consolidate as soon as possible,” said Dr. Francis J. E. Tetreault, the city physician of Orange at the time. “The Oranges must be made one city, so that all our public departments may be better and more economically managed. It is only selfishness that has kept us apart.”
This struggle to consolidate has been a long struggle for former Long Hills Township Mayor Gina Genovese. She spoke at a forum held in Rutherford’s Borough Hall last week and hosted by Courage to Connect New Jersey, a non-profit organization dedicated to fostering municipal consolidation from the ground up by educating residents.
“We are not for forced consolidation,” said Genovese, co-founder and executive director of the organization. “We believe it needs to be organic and it needs to come from the people.”
For the first half hour of the presentation, co-founder Wendy McCahill held up placards one by one listing the names of New Jersey’s 566 municipalities from largest to smallest. The list starts with the state’s heavy hitters: Newark, Jersey City, Paterson and Elizabeth. The South Bergen coverage area didn’t make its appearance until Lyndhurst came up at 126, shortly followed by Rutherford at 143. Piling the placards on top of each other demonstrated just how many small towns make up the Garden State. Over 320 towns have populations of fewer than 10,000 (East Rutherford and Carlstadt are among them); 32 have fewer than 1,000. Nearby Teterboro had the distinction of being the smallest town in the state, though McCahill noted that it’s bumped up one or two spots since they last compiled their list.
Residents of Rutherford and surrounding communities are invited to an open forum on Wednesday, June 8, at 7 p.m. to discuss how municipal consolidation can provide much needed tax relief.
Courage to Connect New Jersey, a non-partisan, non-profit organization, will sponsor the program, which will be held take at the Rutherford Borough Hall Council Chambers.
The forum will also include discussion on the second edition of “Courage to Connect New Jersey Guidebook: The Tools for Municipal Consolidation,” published this month. It is a comprehensive manual that provides step-by step measures that residents and local officials can take to form municipal consolidation study commissions and, ultimately, consolidate communities.
The program is free and open to the public; residents of Rutherford and other communities in Bergen County are encouraged to attend. To learn more about Courage to Connect New Jersey or for a free copy of the guidebook, visit the organization’s website: www.CourageToConnectNJ.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was originally published in the South Bergenite.
A dozen Washington Township residents, including Mayor Ken Short, attended a June 1 presentation by Courage to Connect NJ at the public library in Long Valley. The nonprofit, which addressed Mendham Borough residents last month, was invited to the township. Across the state it is gaining traction in urging municipalities to connect five to 10 at a time.
The group says consolidation efforts — which can be started by residents using a petition process under a new state law — are the only way left to reduce property taxes once and for all.
In a state with 566 municipalities, 28 of which have at least 50,000 residents, consolidating is a rational solution, according to Courage to Connect NJ. Even very small towns in the state are supporting their own municipal structures.
This article was originally published in the Daily Record.