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Quotes

"Imagine a web woven by a spider on LSD and you might see a frightening similarity to the map showing the jurisdictional outlines of our 566 municipalities in NJ. Present the current facts and statistics of the situation to a systems analyst and you can expect howls of laughter. Given a free hand to reconstruct and reconfigure the present map, no one would attempt to justify a replication of the existing system."

Alan J. Karcher,
Multiple Municipal Madness

Uncategorized

State must aid local consolidation studies

This opinion editorial by Courage to Connect NJ Research Director Andrew Bruck originally appeared in the Courier Post. To download a full PDF, click here.

Forty years of school finance litigation — and we still can’t agree what it means to provide a “thorough and efficient” system of public education.

The latest Abbott v. Burke ruling didn’t distinguish between the two parts of New Jersey’s most famous constitutional phrase, but it seems unlikely we’ll ever get to thoroughness without efficiency. In the real world if not in the courts, there’s no separating the two, and it’s time for the Legislature to give both their due.

The system for funding and operating our public schools is hopelessly wasteful: a fractured, Byzantine system that allows good money to be wasted on redundant programs and unnecessary bureaucracies. The problem lies with New Jersey’s overabundance of local government. With 566 municipalities and 616 school districts, we simply have too many administrative entities trying to do the same thing. New Jersey taxpayers elect mayors to govern towns with fewer than 25 residents and pay superintendants to oversee districts with fewer than 50 students.

The waste is remarkable. Consider Mendham, home of Gov. Chris Christie. It’s a single community, but the town is split into two local governments: Mendham Borough and Mendham Township. Each municipality has its own K-8 school district, each with fewer than 1,000 enrolled students and each with a superintendant making more than $150,000 per year.

The two municipalities are also part of the West Morris Regional High School District, which includes Chester Township, Chester Borough and Washington Township. The regional district pays its superintendant $192,000 per year to watch over the five towns’ high school kids.

It’s an elaborate — and expensive — mess. It’s no surprise that, at a spring 2009 town hall meeting, Christie called the divide between the two Mendhams “crazy.”

There’s a better way. Representatives from the Mendhams, the Chesters and Washington Township are discussing several cost-saving measures, including a consolidation of the various school districts and, more boldly, a consolidation of the five municipalities. A recent study commissioned by Courage to Connect NJ, the only statewide nonpartisan, nonprofit organization devoted to consolidation and shared services, found that multi-town municipal consolidations could lower property taxes by up to 40 percent in some cases.

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Courage to Connect NJ featured in The Nonprofit Quarterly

In New Jersey there are 566 towns. California, by comparison, has only 482 municipalities. An organization called Courage to Connect N.J. believes that the situation is unsustainable in light of the growing financial straits of local governments.

They say too many local governments, and the costs associated with them, drive up property taxes. In response, the group has sent staff out across the state to try to convince clusters of five to ten towns to merge their services and, potentially, their towns.

Currently, Connect N.J. are working with a grouping that includes two Mendhams, two Chesters, and a Washington Township. Sounds like a relatively good hand. If they were to merge, their population would total 38,870. Says Ken Short, Mayor of Washington Township, “I’d be very much open to discussions . . . If we can save the taxpayers money through consolidation, I would be happy to step down from my elected position and work to make it happen to save people money.”

NPQ has often written that nonprofits can be even more active and powerful on issues of taxation and the economy. This is an interesting, innovative and ambitious project and will be worth watching.

This article originally appeared in The Nonprofit Quarterly.

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Courage to Connect featured on CBS New York

NEW JERSEY (WCBS 880) – A grassroots movement calling for municipal consolidations, is growing in New Jersey.

With a two percent tax cap in place, budgets are tight all across the Garden State. Positions are being cut in schools, police departments and public works.

State senator Robert Gordon says consolidation of some of New Jersey’s 566 municipalities is inevitable.

“I think New Jersey is headed for a financial meltdown,” said Gordon. “You can only cut so far. At some point, you really have to look at how you’re organized.”

Historically, towns have been reluctant to surrender home-rule, but a new law makes it easier for individual citizens to initiate the consolidation process.

Leading the consolidation charge is a grassroots effort. Gina Genovese founded Courage to Connect New Jersey, a non-profit, non-partisan group that helps citizens get the consolidation process started.

“Frankly, there might be some towns that the mayor and council don’t want to give up power. So you have to have an opportunity for the citizens to be able to do it in connection with other towns where their mayors and councils get it,” said Genovese.

She says consolidation is on the table in the Cherry Hill area and in Fairwood and Scotch Plains.

Check out the original report from CBS New York

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New law eases municipal consolidation

This article originally appeared in the Courier Post

Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation Wednesday that will ease municipal consolidation, opening the door for further study of a Cherry Hill-Merchantville merger.

The law allows the towns to seek state approval to begin the merger process through voter petition; an application by the local governing body; or a combination of the two, its sponsors said.

The previous law required each municipality to use the same method when seeking approval to form a Consolidation Study Commission.

Reaction from Merchantville and Cherry Hill leaders about the bill — and the continued possibility of a merger — was mixed Wednesday.

“The governor has signed into law a provision that puts these kinds of decisions back into the hands of the people,” Cherry Hill Mayor Bernie Platt said.

“This was a reasonable and rational change to a law that was inflexible and in certain circumstances did not follow the will of the people.”

Said township spokesman Dan Keashen: “We’re all in (for a possible merger.) The mayor is ready to go and has said he is more than willing to study the issue and move forward with a productive group.

“If they (Merchantville) want to come and talk, we’re ready.”

“My feeling is, basically, that the general public elects the officials,” said Merchantville Mayor Frank North. “And those officials should be the ones to make such decisions.

“For a handful of residents to bypass the governing body is wrong.”

North said he had no preference as to whether the merger study is conducted or not.

“You can’t have a group trying to do a study without knowing all of the ramifications of working with the government of another town,” he said.

“If we can get a good, educated study of how the (two) governing bodies work, what the debts will be, the costs for public safety and service, as well as the negatives and the benefits to each town, then they (the residents) vote.

“If they vote to merge, so be it. If they vote not to, so be it.”

One of the residents “bypassing the governing body” North spoke of is Bob Stocker, a member of the Merchantville citizens’ group that originally proposed the merger study.

Stocker admitted Wednesday the process in Merchantville has been contentious.

“Since council rescinded our resolution, we have asked them for recommendations for new committee members,” he said. “We’ve asked Mayor North to recommend people.

“Now we believe we have a slate of committee members that reaches a compromise for all. We’re going to resubmit our application (for the study to be done) shortly, and we hope council will support us.”

Assembly Democrats Pamela Lampitt, Louis D. Greenwald, Connie Wagner and Valerie Vainieri Huttle drafted the new law in direct response to the state Department of Community Affairs’ invalidation of a consolidation study proposal.

DCA ruled the two towns submitted a hybrid application.

“I believe there are too many roadblocks in place for consolidation,” Lampitt said last month after the Assembly passed the measure.

“It’s unfortunate that we had to legislate common sense like this,” Lampitt said Wednesday.

“But at least this law will make mergers and efforts to control property taxes easier.”

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Save the Date! Symposium on Municipal Consolidation

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Courier Post: Make it easier for studies to happen

Lawmakers should approve bill to allow resolutions and petitions in applying for merger studies.

Not just in New Jersey, but all around the nation, local and county governments short on funds and struggling to weather the recession, are looking at sharing services with neighbors and consolidating.

Here in New Jersey, the capital of home rule and government fragmentation — 566 municipal governments and 600-plus school districts — there are plenty of opportunities for consolidations and regionalized services. Currently, officials from across Camden County are meeting regularly to plot how a countywide police force could be formed to save money for towns large and small.

In Trenton, legislators’ job is to knock down roadblocks, to make it easier for those towns and districts that want to share certain departments or combine everything, to move forward. Towns and school districts need help from the state in researching whether consolidation makes sense and help in making sure consolidation is a money-saver, which it should be in most cases since overhead is being reduced.

To that end, we applaud state Sens. James Beach, D-Camden, and Robert Gordon, D-Bergen, who have put forward legislation to more easily enable residents and elected officials to get funding from the state for formal consolidation studies.

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

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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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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:

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WMBC Introduces CtoCNJ:




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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: