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Woodbridge Model | What Woodbridge Can Afford? | How Much Does Small Cost?
Glossary | Common Questions | Historic First | A Century of Support
So what happens when you merge multiple municipal governments into a single streamlined system? You get something like Woodbridge Township – one of New Jersey’s most fascinating municipalities.
Woodbridge is essentially ten towns in one. There are ten distinct “communities” – Avenel, Colonia, fords, Hopelawn, Iselin, Keasbey, menlo Park Terrace, Port Reading, Sewaren, and Woodbridge Proper – but all are governed by a single administrative system. The unique arrangement allows the Township to provide high-quality services at a low cost, while preserving the small-town character of its various neighborhoods.
Back in the early 1800s, most New Jersey municipalities actually looked like Woodbridge – a relatively large area comprised of several distinct neighborhoods. But over the following century, residents across the state began subdividing their towns into smaller and smaller units, incorporating new municipalities and seceding from existing ones. Yet as other towns shrank, Woodbridge remained more or less intact. Its diverse communities thrived, and areas like Colonia, Hopelawn, and Iselin – which could have easily broken away and formed their own municipalities – decided to remain part of greater Woodbridge. Today, with nearly 100,000 residents, it’s New Jersey’s sixth largest municipality.
Woodbridge is a model of efficient and effective local government. The town spreads expenses over a relatively large population, allowing it to achieve economies of scale on basic services while simultaneously pursuing more ambitious municipal projects. (for a full list of the services that Woodbridge provides, see page 32.)
But is Woodbridge really more efficient than small towns? To find out, Courage to Connect NJ contacted Reagan Burkholder, an expert in local government finances and a principal at Summit Collaborative Advisors. He came up with a novel approach: compare the local property taxes of a group of towns roughly the same population and size as Woodbridge to the actual taxes in Woodbridge Township. Since there has never been an actual 5-10 town study, these numbers provide a theoretical view of the savings.
To perform this comparison, Burkholder identified a group of nine small towns in Bergen County. The Bergen group provided an ideal benchmark —THE WOODBRIDGE MODEL combined, the towns have approximately the same population (100,000), land area (23 mi2), density (4,000 residents/mi2), and per capita income ($25,000) as Woodbridge. The most important difference, then, is the amount of local government: whereas Woodbridge is a single municipality, each town in the Bergen group is governed by its own municipal administration.
Burkholder’s findings were remarkable. Woodbridge provides municipal services to nearly 100,000 residents for $110 million, while the nine independent towns provide services to nearly the same population for a combined cost of $158 million. It costs the Bergen group $48 million – or 43 percent – more to operate than Woodbridge. Likewise, Burkholder found that residents of the Bergen group pay $45 million – or 70 percent – more in municipal taxes per year than the Woodbridge residents. (See chart on page 33.) New Jersey’s small towns cost serious money.
There’s more. Not only does Woodbridge provide municipal services for less money than its counterparts in Bergen County, it also provides better services. On the next page is a list of what Woodbridge can afford given its large size and efficient administration.