The tower of 566 placards in the corner of the living room at Gina Genovese’s Millington home stands maybe 11 feet tall. It takes Wendy McCahill about 35 minutes during their presentations to display them one-by-one to an audience.
The placards represent the 566 municipalities in New Jersey. If she had her way, Genovese would throw those placards into the air and only about 100 of them would return. Those placards would represent the 100 new municipal governments in New Jersey, and, she said, the only real way to end the state’s tax nightmare. A business owner and former Democratic mayor of Long Hill, Genovese is the executive director of Courage to Connect NJ, a grassroots nonprofit organization that offers a vision for the state that drastically cuts the number of municipal governments, offers the real possibility to cut local taxes, promotes government efficiency in ways that no other model does, and still allows residents to say they live in Budd Lake, Lake Hiawatha, Millington or Stirling, Milton, White Meadow Lake or Long Valley. “People need to have the room to understand that their town’s identity will not change because their municipal administration changes,” she said. There are plenty of examples around New Jersey, she said. Short Hills and Millburn share an adminstration, but are seen as separate places; Woodbridge Township is a collection of 10 distinct local communities each with their own name; Long Hill is the township, but Stirling, Millington and Gillette are the better-known sections that residents identify as home. For example, she said, the Chesters, the Mendhams and Washington Township, all of which are in the same regional high school district, could form a town of 38,000 or 39,000 residents, still maintain their local character but gain efficiencies with fewer administrators. Genovese’s vision goes beyond shared services. She was mayor when Long Hill and Bernards Township formed a joint police communications center, but feels that as innovative as that action was, the savings were insufficient. “We were sharing 12 to 15 services,”" Genovese said. “Could we have 40 or 50? You’re going to have nothing your town does by itself.” And that is that challenge she puts to mayors whose towns share more and more services: If you share everything, what are you exactly the mayor of? That is why she is seeking five to 10 towns to “”find the courage” to form one municipal adminsitration as a pilot program. She said her organization is seeking nongovernment financial support so that it can pay for any studies needed to support the creation of the new local government. Genovese will hold a presentation in Morristown on Oct. 14.