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"The pressure for consolidation begins when residents begin to recognize a problem with the current municipal structure, either because of rising taxes, lowering quality of services, or growing environmental problems."

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Princeton Township Mayor: Municipal consolidation will pay off

For the Princetons, 2012 is the year we transition to a single municipal government, with the promise of a brighter and more sustainable future.

 

Our success in consolidating has set off a series of similar efforts across the state. To that end, a dynamic and energetic organization called Courage to Connect New Jersey has gathered significant momentum and is holding a conference on municipal consolidation March 28 in East Brunswick. The statewide event will build on the success that we’ve had in Princeton Borough and Princeton Township.

 

In a time when municipalities across the state are struggling to maintain the same level of service, we, in Princeton Township, have struggled to do the same while trying to keep municipal taxes low. As a result, we ended up reducing 18 percent of our staff over the past five years.

 

With the new 2 percent state-mandated municipal cap, many towns are facing a choice: reduce staff and cut services, or spend down their municipal surplus (i.e., savings). This is the situation that towns across the state face today. Consolidation will put our towns on a more sustainable path and allow us to bring back services that had been cut to balance the budget.

 

At the same time, it will save our taxpayers a significant amount of money. Princeton Borough and Princeton Township have identified $3.2 million in annual savings at the full implementation of our consolidation plan. These savings are from personnel reductions only. (One personnel reduction is my own, because I worked myself out of a job, too.)

 

Personnel savings of $3.2 million is significant, for it represents about 6 percent of our combined municipal budgets. However, there’s an opportunity to save even more by combining operating budgets and eliminating duplicative contracted services (municipal audits, software licensing fees, office equipment, etc.).

 

This op-ed originally appeared in The Star-Ledger. To continue reading, click here or download the full PDF here

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Courage to Connect NJ Featured in the Paramus Patch

Communities, like the people who live in them, suffered from the recent economic crisis, dealing with budget cuts, layoffs, and reduced services.

 

“This may be the worst of times,” said Rhoda Schermer of the North Jersey Public Policy Network, sponsor of “Creating Thriving Communities in Challenging Times,” a special presentation Thursday at Bergen Community College where a panel of experts proposed solutions to help towns recover and thrive.

 

Residents of various Bergen County communities as well as Sen. Bob Gordon, Freeholder Maura DiNicola, and public officials from Park Ridge and Little Ferry turned out to hear the proposals, which urged citizens and local governments to work cooperatively on projects that could save money and improve quality of life through better land use, more efficient transportation patterns, environmentally sound practices, and streamlined municipal administrations.

 

“We have to restructure New Jersey,” said Gina Genovese, founder and director of Courage to Connect NJ, an organization that helps communities consolidate and share costly services such as fire, police, and sanitation departments. “The state cannot sustain its 566 municipalities.”

 

Genovese was the mayor of Long Hill Township where a small population struggled to finance municipal services. She praised the 2011 consolidation of Princeton Boro and Princeton Township into a single municipality, a move expected to save Princeton $3.2 million a year.

 

This article originally appeared in the Paramus Patch. Continue reading the full article here 

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SPF Residents Take Historic Step Towards Consolidation of Neighboring Towns

Scotch Plains and Fanwood residents in favor of merging the two towns made history on February 15, becoming the first neighboring communities in the state to petition the Local Finance Board to commission a study on what consolidation would mean for the SPF tax payers.

 

Over the past year, this community has seen an escalation in discussions regarding shared services, including a possible police merger. Fanwood Mayor, Colleen Mahr, who has dedicated much of her time as Mayor to revitalizing downtown Fanwood, has remained adamant in her opposition to full consolidation. However, Scotch Plains Mayor, Nancy Malool of has openly voiced her support for pursuing a municipal consolidation study, under the Local Option Municipal Consolidation Act, passed in 2007.

 

Courage to Re-connect is the local grassroots organization that created the petition to commission the consolidation to study. The organization was founded by Scotch Plains resident, Fred Lange. Courage to Re-connect receives support from Courage to Connect New Jersey, a non-profit, non-partisan organization committed to assisting municipalities to study consolidation where appropriate.

 

Frustrated with rising taxes, Lange formed the organization in 2010. Backed by a firm belief that consolidation was the answer to rising costs, Lange mobilized members of his community to support a municipal study.

 

In order to commission the study, Lange had to get 10 percent of voters in Scotch Plains and Fanwood who voted in the last general election to sign the petition. Lange exceeded that requirement, collecting over 1000 signatures.

 

“Initially, I went door to door to have our petitions signed,” Lange said. “Ninety-two percent of the people in Fanwood and 98 percent of the people in Scotch Plains with whom I spoke supported what I was doing. This is really a citizen-driven initiative. We’re the ones who want to study a consolidation by an overwhelming majority.”

 

This article originally appeared in the Scotch Plains-Fanwood Patch. Continue reading the full article here.  

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Courage to Connect New Jersey again advocates for municipal consolidation in Pohatcong Township

Courage to Connect New Jersey started its presentation last week at Pohatcong Township Elementary School by citing an 1895 New York Times article discussing the municipal consolidation of the Oranges.

 
“The Oranges must be made one city so that all our public departments may be better and more economically managed,” Courage to Connect New Jersey Executive Director Gina Genovese said, quoting a city physician from the article. “It is only selfishness that keeps us apart.”

 
“We have to find out if in 2012 if it is only selfishness that keeps us apart,” Genovese told the audience of roughly 20 people, including local officials, residents and emergency squad members. Courage to Connect New Jersey is a nonpartisan, nonprofit group that goes around the state educating the public about municipal consolidation. The three-year-old organization delivered a similar presentation at the end of October in Pohatcong Township.

 
Genovese did most of the talking at the lecture last week as co-founder Wendy McCahill took on the tedious task of showing the audience 566 placards representing New Jersey’s municipalities from the highest to lowest in population.

 
McCahill then stacked a majority of the placards against a wall, leaving a handful on the table because the pile had reached the ceiling.
“The thing that’s ironic about these 566 towns is that they do 80 percent of the same thing,” she said. “Is there a better way to administer the business of these 566 towns?”

 

Click here to continue reading this article in The Express-Times. To download a full PDF, click here.

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10 reflections on 2011, hopes for new year from Morris notables

Courage to Connect NJ Founder and Executive Director Gina Genovese was recently featured in The Daily Record article, “10 reflections on 2011, hopes for new year from Morris notables.


Gina Genovese, Founder and executive director, Courage to Connect NJ

 

One word to describe 2011: Groundbreaking

 

Wish or hope for 2012: In 2012, New Jersey will have the courage to lead the way to a sustainable and stronger municipal structure.

 

In the new year municipal consolidation will be acknowledged as the most common sense way to end redundancy in local government.

 

Courage to Connect NJ will be working on numerous consolidation efforts initiated by both citizens and elected officials statewide. What was learned through the efforts of citizens and elected officials in 2011 in communities such as the Princetons, Cherry Hill and Merchantville, and Scotch Plains and Fanwood will be passed to the next generation of consolidators.

 

Courage to Connect NJ will be the one-stop resource for those seeking to improve local services and reduce the cost of local government.

 

Ultimately, the consolidation movement, started in New Jersey, will sweep across the entire country.

 

Click here to continue reading the full article.

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N.J. organization wants a Scotch Plains-Fanwood merger

SCOTCH PLAINS — A group of Scotch Plains and Fanwood residents are taking it upon themselves to merge their two towns. The municipal governments have long flirted with the idea of consolidation but residents say they’re tired of waiting.

 

“This would solve everything,” said Fred Lange, a 37-year Scotch Plains resident leading the effort. “It would lower taxes, make departments and services more efficient and it just makes sense.”

 

Scotch Plains and Fanwood already share a school district and most recently started talks about combining police forces and construction.

 

Lange’s group, Courage to Connect New Jersey, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to consolidating services in many of New Jersey’s 566 towns. The group operates across the state but sprouted local roots in Scotch Plains and Fanwood in March.

 

Council members and the mayors in both towns say they’re committed to cutting property taxes but feelings about a total merger are mixed.

 

“I think you have to walk before you run,” said Scotch Plains Councilman Kevin Glover. “Walking might have been merging the schools, next you merge police and public works but it should be an evolutionary move, rather than a revolutionary one.”

 

In 2009, the towns spent $50,000 to study merging services such as the police department, public works and the municipal courts, Glover said. But there has been no study that looks at combining the towns on the whole, he said.

 

This article originally appeared in The Star-Ledger. Click here to continue reading

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Scotch Plains/Fanwood making history

This opinion-editorial article written by Courage to Connect NJ Executive Director Gina Genovese originally appeared in the Courier News.


Scotch Plains and Fanwood residents are making their mark on New Jersey’s history. Never before have the citizens in two adjacent towns petitioned the state to study the benefits of municipal consolidation. With petitions completed and submitted to both towns, this is democracy at its best.

 

In the past year, there have been enormous strides toward consolidation in New Jersey, as residents are tired of wasting money on redundant government. Citizens in Merchantville petitioned and successfully created a study commission, working with the mayor of Cherry Hill. Earlier this month, residents of the Princetons voted to merge their towns, with the support of the local mayors and governing bodies.

 

Scotch Plains and Fanwood would be the first communities in which the residents — not the elected governments — are taking the steps toward consolidation. Residents in Fanwood and Scotch Plains created a group called “Courage to Reconnect,” and led a petition drive in both towns to form a study commission.
Courage to Reconnect is a leader in the consolidation movement. It is a leader in making New Jersey sustainable. It is using state law to mobilize local residents into controlling their own destiny.

 

The citizens who spearheaded the petition and all those who signed it should be applauded for their visionary leadership. They are taking the steps to see what a consolidated Scotch Plains and Fanwood would look like, and if it is the right move for the towns.

 

While Scotch Plains and Fanwood are the first to complete this citizen-run petition drive, they are not the last. Courage to Connect New Jersey, a non-profit, non-partisan organization, is now guiding nine other groups around the state in seven counties. Most if not all will be starting the petition process in January.

 

This is an amazing time for taxpayers in New Jersey to take control of how their tax dollars are used and to identify efficiencies that benefit them. The residents of Scotch Plains and Fanwood should be lauded as leaders in this effort.

 

Continue reading this article

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Pohatcong Township Mayor Jim Kern III pushes for Phillipsburg-area municipal consolidation

Talks of a municipal merger between Phillipsburg-area governments have begun.

 

Pohatcong Township Mayor Jim Kern III hosted a forum last week to discuss consolidating Alpha, Phillipsburg and Pohatcong, Lopatcong and Greenwich townships.

 

“There are 566 towns in the state of New Jersey and 566 mayors in the state,” Kern said after the forum. “It’s crazy the amount of duplication between services.”

 

The consolidation would result in one governing body, one mayor, one council, one administrator, one attorney, one land use board, one chief financial officer, one tax assessor and one court system for the Phillipsburg-area, according to Kern.

 

“There would be no reduction in services and the town would be able to operate at lower costs,” Kern said, adding he vowed to explore all possibilities to lower taxes when he was elected earlier this year.

 

Kern invited Gina Genovese, executive director of Millington, N.J.-based Courage to Connect New Jersey, to speak at the forum.

 

“Courage to Connect is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that addresses the financial state of New Jersey and difficulty of municipalities to deliver services and not raise taxes,” Genovese said in an interview after the forum, noting the organization has existed for two years. “The forum is a great way to start the conversation, air concerns and talk about consolidation.”

 

 

This article originally appeared in The Express-Times

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Editorial: In this economy, consolidation could be right move for NJ towns

This editorial originally appeared in The Star-Ledger. To read the full article, click here


Funny thing is, when you ask a resident of Princeton Township or Princeton Borough where they live, the answer usually is simply “Princeton.” Well, now they have a chance to make that a reality. On Nov. 8, the two municipalities can write history (and rewrite maps) if they vote to consolidate.

 

The town’s new name? Princeton, of course.

 

Should they merge? Yes. Will they? Who knows?

 

The towns have been trying to marry for 60 years, but each time, residents have objected rather than hold their peace. Three efforts toward a proposed unification have failed, but times have changed dramatically, even since the last attempt in 1996.

 

The two municipalities are sharing more services, state aid is drying up, unfunded mandates are siphoning tax dollars, the economy is sputtering (and likely will for years) and the Legislature has installed a 2 percent property tax cap.

 

And now, Gov. Chris Christie has proposed making the upfront costs associated with consolidation easier to manage by allowing towns to stretch them over five years, with the state picking up the tab for the first year.

 

In other words, there are more reasons than ever for the Princetons to book the chapel.
Residents are asking themselves: Do we want to remain in separate but similar towns, drowning in taxes, or combine into one municipality and enjoy immediate and long-term savings?

 

It’s a no-brainer, but New Jersey’s 566 municipalities and 605 school districts — even those as well-matched as the Princetons — have resisted coupling. Unapologetic dreamers, like Gina Genovese of Courage to Connect New Jersey, believe the tide is turning, however. Her nonprofit organization holds the hands of towns (Merchantville and Cherry Hill, for example) that want to merge.

 

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Gina Genovese featured in Star-Ledger Q&A

Below is a Q&A that originally appeared in The Star-Ledger on Oct. 31, 2011. To read the full article, click here

A 1934 New York Times article, bemoaning New Jersey’s inability to merge inefficient and redundant towns, says “it is up to organizations of citizens to carry forward the movement without the aid of the State.”

So, how’s that been working? Not very well, actually.

Seventy-seven years later, New Jersey has 566 municipalities and 605 school districts, and has become a model for costly and inefficient municipal government. In other words, little has changed.

But Gina Genovese insists the state finally is on the verge of a consolidation movement, and her organization, Courage to Connect New Jersey, is a driving force behind potential municipal mergers. Genovese, who spoke with Star-Ledger Editorial Board member Kevin Manahan, will be watching closely as Princeton Borough and Princeton Township vote on a historic consolidation on Nov. 8.

 

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News & Videos


Visit CTCNJ on YouTube


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: