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"There is a better, more intelligent, and less expensive way to provide local services, and we have it in our collective power to bring about changes for the better."

Alan J. Karcher,
Multiple Municipal Madness

In the News

Courage to Connect NJ Featured in Long Valley Patch’s Week in Review

Courage to Connect NJ, an pro-municipal consolidation group, held a forum at the Washington Township Library on Wednesday and explained the benefits of multiple towns coming together to form one municipality. The 45-minute presentation was followed by a question and answer session with the audience.

Continue reading the full article in the Long Valley Patch

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Organization Champions Consolidation in Washington Twp.

New Jersey’s government–and economy–won’t be sustainable in 2020, and a change in the state’s municipal structure needs to begin now or bankruptcy is inevitable, according to Courage to Connect NJ, an organization championing municipal consolidation for the purpose of cost-savings.

Led by former Long Hill Township Mayor Gina Genovese and Wendy McCahill, the group, launched in January of 2010, gave a 45-minute presentation at the Washington Township Library on Tuesday night to a svelte, but deeply-interested crowd, followed by a 45-minute question and answer session.

The duo introduced the group’s purpose and explained the three focal points of their presentation: the need to look at New Jersey differently; the need to look at towns and individual communities differently; and what exactly is the role of the tax payer in the consolidation process.

New Jersey has the greatest number of municipalities–566–per square mile in the United States. McCahill stood next to a table with three towers that consisted of 566 placards, each one stating a municipality’s name and population. McCahill then proceeded to take each card off the stack and stand it up to face the audience while Genovese went through the presentation.

Genovese explained all the different avenues New Jersey has attempted to traverse in order to boost revenue, from the implementation of income tax in the 1970s, to allowing gambling in Atlantic City and the stoppage of funding the pension systems.

“And now we have the 2-percent cap,” Genovese said. “My heart truly goes out to elected officials having to deal with this. In the long run, this will weaken a town. It’s extremely hard to deliver quality services and not raise taxes.”

This article originally appeared in the Long Valley Patch

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Courage to Connect NJ featured in The Daily Record article, “5 towns talk of combining for savings”

Photo by: Bob Karp/The Daily Record

MENDHAM — Forces are converging to unite both Mendhams, both Chesters and Washington Township under one municipal government and one school system.

It is a plan Gina Genovese, co-founder of Courage to Connect NJ, encouraged Wednesday at a Mendham Borough Library forum that drew two dozen homeowners.

The nonprofit, which has given some 30 presentations statewide since it formed last year, is pushing the idea that true savings occur when five to 10 municipalities connect by sharing a government and keeping their individual identities as neighborhoods.

A band of 15 residents from the Chesters and Mendhams, now emerging publicly as the Mendham Chester Alliance, said at the forum that they have calculated that uniting their four municipalities under one government and one school system would save $32 million a year.

“If you adjust the tax formula and make it the same for each town, that’s about a 30 percent savings on everybody’s taxes,” said Bruce Flitcroft of Mendham Township, the chief executive officer of Alliant Technologies and an alliance member. “That’s huge. How do you argue with it?”

The alliance website, www.mendhamchester.org, is unfinished, but is gaining subscribers nonetheless.

Genovese is a tennis club owner whose experience as former mayor of Long Hill convinced her to co-found Courage to Connect NJ last year with Wendy McCahill.

Their argument: The costs of maintaining too many local governments have been driving up property taxes for too long. Further, all efforts to offset property taxes have failed or are failing — the 1976 income tax, Atlantic City gambling, municipal spending caps, dwindling rebates and not funding pensions.

“Five hundred sixty-six New Jersey towns in 2020 is not sustainable,” she said. “We’re on the Titanic.”

Continue reading this article in The Daily Record.

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Doughnut hole municipalities: Can they help set the tone for wholesale town mergers?

As the volume of New Jersey’s consolidation chorus continues to grow louder — encouraged by Gov. Chris Christie and others who say reducing government is the surest path to reducing property taxes — the state’s nearly two dozen “doughnut hole” towns find themselves easy targets.

These municipalities, called “doughnut holes” because one town completely surrounds another, appear to many to be the most likely to merge.

Often, these towns already share many services: a school district, a library and, in places like Chester (Morris County) and Princeton (Mercer County), they even share a name. But in the spirit of home rule, many of their biggest expenses — police and fire departments, public works and town halls — remain separate.

On a map, the doughnut hole towns would seem to be the likeliest candidates to consolidate and merge: One town simply absorbs the other and, voila, two municipalities become one.

There are more than 20 of them statewide, including Freehold and Freehold Township in Monmouth County, Metuchen and Edison in Middlesex County, Lakehurst and Manchester in Ocean County.

But the doughnut mergers haven’t happened and, for a variety of reasons, are unlikely to happen soon. And there are questions about whether — in talks about the value of small government and municipal consolidation — the doughnut towns matter at all.

Assemblyman Reed Guscoria, D-Mercer, grew up in one doughnut (Hopewell and Hopewell Township) and lives in another (Princeton and Princeton Township). He believes towns like those can be used to demonstrate the benefits of merging entire municipalities.

Guscoria has sponsored a bill in each of the past two legislative sessions that would force the doughnut towns to merge within 10 years. His current bill (A1904) was introduced in February 2010 and has not moved out of committee. Its predecessor in the previous session fared no better.

He believes his colleagues in the Legislature are unwilling to force the hands of local officials in their districts to consolidate themselves out of jobs. But Guscoria thinks the doughnut towns are the perfect place to start.

Continue reading this article in the Asbury Park Press or download a full PDF here

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Courage to Change

The problems associated with NJ’s municipalities replicating services can be compared to the concept of redundancy in the private sector.

Corporate elimination of redundancy, initiated in the 1980s, is now generally accepted as the preferred method for turning around declining organizations, cutting costs, and improving performance.

Courage to ConnectNJ, a non-profit organization seeking to reduce the replication of services in NJ, announced their opening of a Bergen County chapter during a forum held at Bergen Community College.

With a goal to energize, enlighten and engage citizens in the effort to eliminate redundancy throughout Bergen County, Courage to ConnectNJ enlisted a panel of experts and civic leaders to lead a discussion on the future of municipal governance in Bergen County. Gina Genovese, the executive director, moderated the forum and began with a summary of NJ’s ranking as the state with the highest tax burden; detailing how the replication of services offered by NJ’s 566 municipalities is a major factor.

The only recent municipal consolidation in New Jersey took place in 1952, so one of the organization’s goals is to encourage additional studies to examine if cost savings can be realized in today’s economic environment. In place of a working model, the forum offered Woodbridge, NJ as an example of a township that can embrace diverse neighborhoods and populations into one municipality.  (Woodbridge is identified, for census and practical purposes, as 10 unincorporated areas – townships that never fractured into incorporated municipalities.)

Two of the main speakers hailed from Woodbridge,  Mayor John McCormac and School Superintendent John Crowe. McCormac spoke to the savings realized by all the residents operating under one entity, and the ability to maintain distinct neighborhoods with respect to fire departments, libraries, VFWs, and other characteristics often associated with the face of a community. He emphasized that had the townships fractured, there would be a replication of 9 other governments with the associated services. This would have led to higher taxes, and the inability of Woodbridge to offer additional services and facilities that smaller towns do not have resources to provide.

Continue reading this article in the Wyckoff Journal or click here to download the full PDF

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Assembly passes bill to let Cherry Hill, Merchantville study a merger

A measure that would clear the way for Cherry Hill Township officials and a Merchantville citizens group to study merging the municipalities was unanimously approved by the state Assembly on Monday.

The bill, which unanimously passed the Senate last month, will now go to Gov. Christie.

The legislation’s backers, members of a grassroots organization, Merchantville Connecting for the Future, have been exploring a merger for about a year as a way of eliminating duplicated administrative bodies and saving money.

This action “lends more flexibility,” said Greg La Vardera, a Merchantville resident and member of the citizens group. “It removes one more barrier, making it easier for smaller and larger municipalities to study consolidation.”

The group’s earlier efforts – which included petitions with hundreds of signatures – were thwarted in December when the state Department of Community Affairs (DCA) rejected an application to take the first step toward consolidation.

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 officials with the state’s local finance board of the DCA’s Division of Local Government Services. The statute requires the participation of two 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 most recent general election.

Members of Merchantville Connecting for the Future and Courage to Connect New Jersey, a nonprofit organization that encourages consolidations, began working with lawmakers to seek a legislative remedy.

“It’s a great day for New Jersey because it allows citizens and local officials to work together – and that’s what we need,” said Gina Genovese, executive director of Courage to Connect New Jersey, a nonprofit group that encourages consolidations and has been working with Merchantville residents.

“There are 566 municipalities across New Jersey, and there are a lot of mayors who don’t want to give up their jobs,” she said. “This allows citizens in one town and officials in another to work together.”

Continue reading this article in the Philadelphia Inquirer or download the full PDF here

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To Alleviate Financial Burden, Township Consolidation Might Be Key

Courage to Connect NJ, a non-profit organization that advocates the consolidation of some of some of New Jersey’s 566 municipalities, held a public forum at Brunner Elementary School on Wednesday night. Co-founders Gina Genovese and Wendy McCahill spoke of how having multiple townships operate under a single governing body could lead to a more efficient, cohesive state.

The non-partisan organization only visits towns where they are invited. Genovese emphasized that it was not Courage to Connect NJ’s place to tell communities who or what they should merge with, but merely to start the serious conversation on the topic.

“We need to look at ourselves and ask, ‘are we helpless,’” she said. “Is there nothing we can do besides pay more and more in taxes? Most importantly, we need to ask if it’s necessary to have 566 municipal structures.”

The concept of township consolidation is not a new one. Genovese presented a New York Times article about a possible merger of the Oranges dating back to 1895. The city physician of the time stated that, “there’s no other course to be pursued. The Oranges must be made into one city so that all our public departments may be better and more economically managed. It is only selfishness that has kept us apart.”  Coincidentally, 1895 is the same year that Scotch Plains and Fanwood became two separate townships.

“If we don’t look at the state of New Jersey differently and understand that we are all part of this and paying for this, then nothing is going to change,” Genovese said. “If we don’t look at communities and towns differently because we feel we’re going to lose our identity or control, then nothing will change.”

Genovese believes that consolidation of municipalities will help lessen the tax burden on New Jersey residents, as well dramatically decreasing the financial burden on the municipalities themselves. This is especially relevant to residents of Union County, who boast the third highest income property taxes in the country at 8.7 percent. (The first and second spots belong to Essex and Passaic counties.)

Genovese, the former mayor of Long Hill, used her own town as an example of how a single community shouldering the weight of a government would only prove to be a detriment.

“I was Mayor of a town of 9000 people,” she said. “We had 3100 households paying for a single administrative structure. I felt the town should not exist by itself.”

Long Hill attempted to share services with neighboring townships, but the effort further fractured an already fractured system. With shared services, each contract with an individual town is often for a different, singular service that is not shared with any other municipality.

“We’re treating the effects, and not the causes,” she said.

The prime example that Courage to Connect uses to promote consolidation is Woodbridge Township, the state’s oldest town. Woodbridge has a single governing body presiding over 10 distinct communities such as Fords, Avenel, Colonia, and Iselin. The structure has lead to a variety of advantages, including a state of the art television studio, a full time economic development and redevelopment officer, and a full time grant writer, who nets the township up to $12 million a year in grants. Recently, Woodbridge received a grant for nine million dollars in order to install solar panels on schools.


Continue reading this article in the Scotch Plains-Fanwood Patch or download a full PDF here

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Targeting Parsippany superintendent misses the point

The latest target on Gov. Chris Christie’s screen is LeRoy Seitz, the superintendent of the Parsippany-Troy Hills School District, slated to receive $50,000 above the state-mandated $175,000 salary cap. Now the governor is threatening to block approval of the district budget until the school board puts the superintendent’s salary in line.

But compared to what’s going on in western Morris County — in Christie’s back yard — Seitz’s inflated salary is a great bargain.

Maybe the governor should direct his frustration a bit closer to home.

Seitz serves a school district that covers the municipality of Parsippany-Troy Hills, which contains 53,000 residents and educates 7,000 pupils. The district includes two high schools and a dozen middle or elementary schools.

Compare those statistics with Mendham, where Christie resides. It’s actually two municipalities — Mendham Township and Mendham Borough — but good luck trying to tell them apart, even though each has its own school district. In the township, where Christie lives, the schools superintendent earns more than $150,000, despite the fact that the school district only comprises about 900 students. In the borough, the superintendent makes nearly $200,000, with only 700 students. That’s nearly $300 per student.

You’d be surprised to know those numbers don’t even factor in a high school. Years ago, the Mendhams joined with three other municipalities — Chester Borough, Chester Township and Washington Township — to create the West Morris Regional High School District, which has its own set of administrators. There, the district superintendent makes $192,000, while overseeing 2,200 students.

What does this all mean? I can’t talk about the merits of Seitz as a school leader, but it would seem the taxpayers of Parsippany are getting a pretty good deal.

Continue reading this article in The Daily Record, or download a full PDF here

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Should New Jersey’s Towns Consolidate? One Organization Says Yes

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?”

Genovese believes that by consolidating multiple municipalities to operate under a single governing body, the tax burden on New Jersey residents, as well as the financial burden on the municipalities themselves, will decrease dramatically.

Continue reading this article in the Berkeley Heights Patch, or download a full PDF here

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What New Jersey really needs is a consolidation “tool kit”

On Feb. 17, the state Senate took a big step toward reforming our fragmented system of local government. Let’s hope this is the just the beginning.

For more than a century, state lawmakers have been promoting municipal consolidation as a way to cut waste, reduce inefficiency and lower local property taxes. But none of the policies designed to make consolidation easier ever really worked and, since 1952, only a single pair of towns have merged.

At Courage to Connect New Jersey — the only nonpartisan organization that focuses exclusively on encouraging municipal mergers — we have watched numerous towns try to consolidate, only to see them stumble on unexpected obstacles.

Now, against the backdrop of a financial crisis and Gov. Chris Christie’s new 2 percent property tax cap, things are finally changing. Lawmakers realize that consolidation may well be the only way to prevent some communities from declaring bankruptcy. And so, policymakers are preparing legislation that eliminates some of the remaining barriers to town mergers.

On Feb. 17, the Senate unanimously passed S-2465, which gives voters new power to initiate consolidations even when local elected officials balk. In those cases, the law would allow one town’s governing council to partner with a neighboring town’s voters to create a consolidation “study commission.” Thanks to the tireless advocacy of Senate co-sponsors Robert Gordon and James Beach, as well as Senate President Stephen Sweeney, the bill has sailed through the Legislature.

Continue reading this article in the Asbury Park Press or download a full PDF here

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News & Videos


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Chad Goerner interview on NJTV:




Gina shares insights on NJTV:




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:

NJToday
(click image to watch on PBS.org)


WMBC Introduces CtoCNJ:




WMBC Continues the Conversation:




CtoCNJ on NJN:




Gina on NJN:




Fox News 29 in Cinnaminson:




CNBC in Woodbridge:




Gina's "Can NJ Connect?" video:




Abbott and Costello take a humorous look at what we don’t know about our own communities: