This opinion-editorial article originally appeared in The Star-Ledger.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo dedicated more than four minutes of his 2014 State of the State speech last week to discuss what needs to be done to finally control the ever-increasing property taxes across his state: government consolidation.
In his speech, Cuomo recognized there is no sensible way for New York to control property taxes when it must deal with 10,500 local government entities taxing — and often overtaxing — property owners.
“The state must address the proliferation and expense of local governments,” he said. “We must tackle a major structural problem.”
In 2009, when Cuomo was his state’s attorney general, he drafted the “Citizen Empowerment Act,” which gives residents and local officials the power to study consolidation and dissolution of local governments.
He supported the law with a user-friendly website and a guidebook. The state guaranteed up to $25,000 in immediate financial assistance when citizens petition and an additional $75,000 for reorganization planning and implementation.
Since that time, Cuomo noted that only two consolidations have taken place, which he finds unacceptable. “Time to stop making excuses and start making progress,” he said.
In an effort to further encourage consolidation, Cuomo is sweetening the financial incentives with up to $1 million for entities that consolidate, as well as supporting a newly created Financial Restructuring Board.
It is amazing that New Jersey is much further along in consolidation than New York — despite little financial support.
But what New Jersey does have is its 2007 Local Option Municipal Consolidation Law. And it is working.
At the beginning of 2013, New Jersey saw its first successful municipal merger under this law, saving the combined towns of Princeton Borough and Princeton Township more than $3 million a year.
The consolidated Princeton has better municipal services, with a stronger police force, by pooling resources, expanding programs that work and reducing redundancy. We were pleased to see Gov. Chris Christie speak about the successful Princeton merger in his State of the State address on Tuesday.
Residents in Scotch Plains and Fanwood have also used the law to submit petitions and form a Consolidation Study Commission in 2012. But without financial assistance from the state to fund a consolidation study, a three-year, citizen-driven effort could come to an end.
There are residents from many other towns across New Jersey who have contacted Courage to Connect New Jersey — which encourages municipal consolidations — to learn more about the law and its benefits. They are intrigued with the possibility of less local government, and the potential permanent savings from merging police departments, public works departments and other municipal components that have caused taxes to become unbearable for many.
New Jersey is plagued with the same onerous property taxes that New York is.
But Cuomo is determined to help New Yorkers consolidate local government to save money.
It is time for New Jersey to do the same, investing in consolidation studies and local efforts to streamline government.
It is our hope Christie will ask for financial incentives dedicated to promote and support municipal consolidation in his budget address next month.
Yes, the state budget is always tight. But, as Cuomo understands, a small investment at the beginning of the road could ultimately lead to huge savings, easing New Jersey’s chronic property tax problems.
Gina Genovese is executive director of Courage to Connect N.J., and a former mayor of Long Hill.
This article originally appeared in the Red Bank Hub
SEA BRIGHT — A study being conducted by a committee of borough residents to determine the feasibility of consolidating Sea Bright with a neighboring municipality will not be completed until March.
The Citizen Advisory Committee, established in September to look into consolidation, was expected to present its preliminary findings and recommendations to the Borough Council by Dec. 31, but requested additional time to gather information.
The Borough Council granted the request on Nov. 18 with a resolution extending the deadline to March 31.
“This is a complex situation, and our committee first had to understand the New Jersey state statutes that relate to municipal consolidation,” said Jennifer Walsh, a member of the committee.
“In order to provide the mayor and council with complete information, additional time was requested to have the opportunity to meet with all the potential partners before making a recommendation.”
Also serving on the committee are Heather Bedenko, Martin Arasin and Marianne McKenzie Morse.
For the past three months, the committee has been meeting with officials from Monmouth Beach, Rumson, Highlands and Middletown to collect information on the school systems, property values, taxes, budgets, duplicate services, recreation, demographics and the culture of each of the towns.
Walsh said the objective is to study the possibility of consolidating with one of the four neighboring towns with a focus on “potential cost-savings, improving property values and providing a better education for borough children.”
“Per state statute, it is in the public interest to encourage contiguous municipalities to consider consolidation as a means of insuring more rational control of growth and development, more efficient provision of local services and more effective public administration,” she said.
The team has also held consolidation discussions with Courage to Connect, a nonprofit organization that facilitated the merger of Princeton Township and Princeton Borough earlier this year.
Mayor Dina Long said she attended the meeting between the committee and Gina Genovese of Courage to Connect.
“The one thing they stressed to us is that before we can go down the road of consolidation, we need a willing consolidation partner — and that is the work that the committee is still doing,” Long said, adding that the request for an extension was understandable given the complexity of the information that is involved.
The possibility of consolidating has been brought up for discussion at many post-Sandy meetings. Residents have said that now is the time to study consolidation, as the borough is recovering from the storm and undertaking long-term planning.
A major impetus for the study is the heavy tax burden that Sea Bright incurs for sending students to the Shore Regional High School District.
For the 2013-2014 school year, the borough’s school tax levy to the district is $2.4 million to educate about 20 students, the highest per-pupil assessment in the district.
Consolidation with Rumson would mean Sea Bright students would attend schools in the Rumson-Fair Haven Regional School District.
The next step for the committee is to analyze all of the relevant factors for each of the potential consolidation partners.
The analysis would also include a preliminary assessment of the financial impact of consolidating with each of the towns. The results of this analysis would provide the foundation for the committee’s recommendation to the Borough Council.
This article originally appeared on NJ.com
Mount Roxburlington. Arlingbury. Roxmountburarlingony.
Perhaps the name’s a detail to be worked out a bit down the road. After a lot of other details.
Residents of Roxbury and Mount Arlington this week handed their municipal clerks signed petitions calling for a municipal consolidation study commission — a formal look at merging the two communities into one, an idea bandied about for decades in the western Morris County municipalities.
Physically, Mount Arlington sits north of the center of Roxbury, wedging into it its bigger neighbor. Mount Arlington is mostly surrounded by its neighboring community — like the blank space in a letter U. Roxbury has about 23,000 residents — more than four times as much as Mount Arlington.
Mount Arlington Borough and Roxbury Township each have their own municipal administration and their own school district. They’ve each got their own police force — and talks about consolidating those into one have failed twice in the last decade.
But the organizers of the petition say the communities should see if they’d be better off with one of each of those institutions. In an announcement this week, they say they have nearly 400 signatures from Roxbury residents and 111 from Mount Arlington residents who feel the same way.
If the petitions are certified, that should be enough under the Municipal Consolidation Act of 2007 to form a group of five residents from each town to study the pros and cons of a merger. The commission would also study whether a merger should go before voters in each community.
In other words, the commission would decide whether the town should pull a Princeton. Princeton Township and Princeton Borough formally combined into one municipality Jan. 1. Proponents had touted expected cost savings of about $1.6 million, not counting certain one-time costs. An updated analysis after the merger showed the figure at more like $3 million.
At the heart of the effort in Roxbury is the local Taxpayer Education Association Member, which just failed in an effort to displace two incumbent school board members and their running mate with its own ticket. In Mount Arlington, according to organizers, former Councilman and current school board member Gene Paradiso led the effort.
Click here to continue reading this article on NJ.com
This article originally appeared in NJBiz
Law firm Porzio, Bromberg & Newman, with offices in Morristown and Princeton, announced it will be assisting Courage to Connect New Jersey, a non-profit 501c3 and a nonpartisan organization whose purpose is to educate the public about the impact of home rule and provides venues for public engagement.
According to the announcement, Porzio, a leading firm in the area of Employment and Education Law, will provide pro bono advice through Courage to Connect New Jersey to municipalities that are starting out on the path of consolidation, providing perspective as to what the process will entail.
This article originally appeared in the Daily Record.
Teams of residents from Mount Arlington and Roxbury have what they believe are a sufficient number of voter signatures to start the process of a study on the merits of consolidating the two municipalities that border Lake Hopatcong.
The teams and the New Jersey Taxpayers’ Association had gathered 477 signatures of voters in Roxbury and Mount Arlington by Saturday night, or more than enough to satisfy a petition requirement that there be signatures at least equal to 10 percent of the total votes cast in the last general election for legislative office.
Taxpayers’ Association President Chris Rogers said he will spend the next few days cross-checking signatures against registered voter lists, and has been conferring with Gina Genovese, the former mayor of Long Hill Township who founded Courage to Connect NJ, which educates residents and public officials on municipal mergers and consolidations.
Rogers said he is working with Genovese — who aided in the voter-approved consolidation in September of several school districts into the South Hunterdon Regional School District — on filing a necessary application for a consolidation study with the state Department of Community Affairs.
The Municipal Consolidation Act encourages contiguous municipalities to consider consolidation. If an application is in order and sufficient signatures are amassed, governing bodies normally would choose representatives to sit on a study commission and DCA would conduct an objective fiscal analysis. At the end of 10 months and based upon recommendations for or against consolidation by the study commission and DCA, the question of merging could be put before voters in a referendum.
Elected officials in Roxbury could not immediately be reached but Mount Arlington Mayor Art Ondish said he is “open to exploration” but generally is opposed to consolidating the borough and township that he sees as far too different. Ondish said the borough already saves money by sharing health services with Mount Olive and animal control services with Jefferson.
“I’m open to exploring any opportunities to save money but I don’t believe the numbers are going to show a merger is beneficial to Mount Arlington. I believe smaller is better and in a small borough like Mount Arlington you have more accountability and more control,” Ondish said.
Roxbury is 21.9 square miles in size and had 23,324 residents as of the 2010 U.S. Census. Mount Arlington, by comparison, is 2.9 square miles and had 5,050 residents as of 2010. The two municipalities also have different forms of government and different levels of debt.
Rogers, a Roxbury resident, said he believes Mount Arlington is a natural fit to the township, which heavily surrounds the borough. He said that some resistance to studying consolidation could be “tied to egos and politics.”
“Obviously we don’t have all the answers but every town is looking to reduce taxes while trying not to reduce services. Consolidation doesn’t mean you have to gut services,” Rogers said.
Anthony Del Sordi, who has overseen the finances of six public school districts in New Jersey over the past four decades, has been appointed to the Board of Directors of Courage to Connect New Jersey (CtoCNJ), a non-profit, non-partisan organization that assists citizens and local government through the consolidation process.
Del Sordi, who most recently served as business administer of the Scotch Plains-Fanwood schools for 11 years, will help the CtoCNJ board and staff navigate the complexities of school finance, offering a level of experience and skill that will help the organization better counsel local citizens and government officials working through the state-mandated consolidation process.
Del Sordi joins the CtoCNJ Board on the heels of a successful referendum in South Hunterdon, in which 86 percent of voters in Stockton, Lambertville and West Amwell voted to disband four school districts and create one unified district, to be launched July 1, 2014.
“We are seeing a steady increase in the number of inquiries from public school officials, lawmakers and residents about the benefit of dissolving and creating new school districts in New Jersey,” said Gina Genovese, executive director, CtoCNJ. “With a limited amount of financial resources, and growing needs and expenses, regionalization is becoming a viable option for many smaller school districts who are trying to find new ways to deliver quality public education. Anthony is a tremendous asset for us in this area. There aren’t many people in New Jersey who have a better understanding of school finance than Anthony.”
Del Sordi, of Hampton, served as an accountant before accepting a job in 1977 as Business Administrator for the Northvale schools. From there, he has worked for five other school districts: Paramus, Morris Hills, Linden, Ridgewood and Scotch Plains/Fanwood, before retiring in October 2011.
He was active in the New Jersey Association of School Business Officials, in which he was named “School Business Administrator of the Year” for the 2009/10 school year, earned an Above and Beyond Service Award for that year and was the association president for the 2006/07 school year.
Del Sordi said his experience as a member of the Scotch Plains/Fanwood Shared Services Committee from 2000-2011 will be important in his volunteer service to CtoCNJ, as the two communities formed a municipal consolidation study commission earlier this year.
“There is plenty of synergy between what CtoCNJ is working to accomplish and what has been my approach to public service over the past four decades,” Del Sordi said. “The focus needs to be about efficiency and continually identifying ways in which to provide quality services to students in a way that is fiscally responsible to the taxpayer. I am eager to work with CtoCNJ on this mission and appreciate this opportunity to serve.”
This editorial originally appeared in The Star-Ledger
Last week’s landslide vote in southern Hunterdon County, where residents approved a plan to combine four small school districts into one, is an encouraging step toward sanity in government-heavy New Jersey. The first domino of many.
Maybe that’s too optimistic. Although the new K-12 district is the state’s first multiple-district merger in nearly 20 years, there are currently more campaigns to disband regional school districts — breaking them up into smaller, more expensive pieces — than there are to merge districts.
The key to cutting property taxes is cutting costs. Property taxes fund schools, towns and counties. The simplest way to spend less on government is to actually have less government. That’s where consolidation comes in.
On Tuesday, residents of Stockton, Lambertville and West Amwell voted overwhelmingly — 86 percent in favor — to dissolve their three elementary-only districts, plus the regional high school district, and create a combined K-12, starting in 2014. One school board and superintendent instead of four. Consolidated buying and bill-paying. One-fourth the budgets, audits and state reports.
There are educational wins, too: It might not make sense for each primary school to have its own teacher in specialized areas, such as sports or music, but a larger district can hire one for all three.
As smart as consolidation seems, it’s been slow to gain traction. The Princetons merged this year after 50 years of trying. Fanwood and Scotch Plains already share a school district, and now are studying a municipal merger.
But a tax-cutting proposal to share police across Somerset County failed. And across New Jersey, towns want out of regional school compacts over uneven tax burdens. Senate President Steve Sweeney’s bill to withhold state aid from towns that could save money by sharing, but choose not to, is stuck.
South Hunterdon’s new district found a mix in which all taxpayers share the $500,000-a-year savings, illustrating the possibility. As local governments struggle to stay under the state’s 2 percent budget cap, towns and school districts will look for new ways to save.
Successes in South Hunterdon and Princeton should be applauded as examples for others to follow.
The Times of Trenton reports (bit.ly/19CWRb3) that voters on Tuesday passed referendum questions that would create a merged school district and dissolve the South Hunterdon Regional High School district and elementary school districts in West Amwell, Stockton and Lambertville.
The executive director of a nonprofit that promotes the economic benefits of consolidation applauded the vote. Gina Genovese of Courage to Connect New Jersey said in a statement that the residents are “pioneers who had the courage” to create positive change.
Lambertville Board of Education member Derek Roseman tells The Associated Press that the decision was “truly a historic vote” by people willing to endorse regionalism “knowing their future is better off together.”
Information from: The (Trenton, N.J.) Times, http://www.nj.com/times
This article originally appeared in The Daily Record
It promises to be another year of challenges for each and every Board of Education.
Taxpayer money is tighter than ever; the two percent state-mandated spending cap has already forced many schools to eliminate gifted and talented programs, languages, elective classes and extra-curricular activities. Many of our 602 separate school districts can no longer provide cost effective and efficient management of our schools.
But there is one grassroots effort in New Jersey that is trying to find ways to better serve their students and ensure a more sustainable future for their schools.
On Sept. 24 the voters of Lambertville, Stockton and West Amwell in Hunterdon County will decide if they want to dissolve their existing South Hunterdon Regional high school and authorize the creation of a regional pre K-12 district.
South Hunterdon’s journey began six years ago. All four school boards —facing ever-increasing costs — began investigating the advantages to students and taxpayers of becoming a single school district with one administration and a unified curriculum.
They formed the South Hunterdon Regionalization Committee to study the benefits of combining the educational resources of three pre K-6 school districts and one 7-12 district. Voters became part of the collaborative effort by approving a referendum to fund a study to assess potential educational improvements and administrative efficiencies.
Click here to continue reading
The following editorial written by the Mayors of Lambertville, Stockton and West Amwell appeared in the Times of Trenton
Next Tuesday, South Hunterdon will come together to decide whether our four individual school districts — the pre-K-6th grade elementary districts in Lambertville, Stockton and West Amwell and the 7th grade-12 the grade South Hunterdon Regional High School — should be regionalized into one, all-purpose pre-K-12 district. We wholeheartedly endorse this effort and urge its success.
Our small districts share services, a smart move that has been beneficial to both taxpayers and students; however, fiscal realities have stretched those partnerships as far as they can go. Our schools still largely lurch from year to year, unsure if an unexpected expense will mean the end of a cherished class or the need for layoffs. Regionalization will allow our schools to manage their fiscal resources together, to be more sustainable and viable and to make classroom investments that will enhance their already stellar programs.
Our elementary schools are uniquely embedded and share a special place within our communities. Regionalization does not have to jeopardize this special environment. We are committed to ensuring that our families can fully expect to see the same teachers in the same classrooms teaching the same students until or unless the communities have broadly expressed a desire for change.
We encourage voters to approve regionalization on Sept. 24 by voting “Yes” to both questions. The entire state will take notice if we all come together to proactively preserve what remains special in our communities.