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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."

Home Rule

Assembly passes bill to let Cherry Hill, Merchantville study a merger

A measure that would clear the way for Cherry Hill Township officials and a Merchantville citizens group to study merging the municipalities was unanimously approved by the state Assembly on Monday.

The bill, which unanimously passed the Senate last month, will now go to Gov. Christie.

The legislation’s backers, members of a grassroots organization, Merchantville Connecting for the Future, have been exploring a merger for about a year as a way of eliminating duplicated administrative bodies and saving money.

This action “lends more flexibility,” said Greg La Vardera, a Merchantville resident and member of the citizens group. “It removes one more barrier, making it easier for smaller and larger municipalities to study consolidation.”

The group’s earlier efforts – which included petitions with hundreds of signatures – were thwarted in December when the state Department of Community Affairs (DCA) rejected an application to take the first step toward consolidation.

New Jersey’s Local Option Consolidation Act does not allow for a “hybrid application” resulting from the action of the governing body of one municipality and a citizens group from another municipality, said officials with the state’s local finance board of the DCA’s Division of Local Government Services. The statute requires the participation of two governing bodies or two committees representing registered voters. A committee is required to have petitions signed by at least 10 percent of the voters in the most recent general election.

Members of Merchantville Connecting for the Future and Courage to Connect New Jersey, a nonprofit organization that encourages consolidations, began working with lawmakers to seek a legislative remedy.

“It’s a great day for New Jersey because it allows citizens and local officials to work together – and that’s what we need,” said Gina Genovese, executive director of Courage to Connect New Jersey, a nonprofit group that encourages consolidations and has been working with Merchantville residents.

“There are 566 municipalities across New Jersey, and there are a lot of mayors who don’t want to give up their jobs,” she said. “This allows citizens in one town and officials in another to work together.”

Continue reading this article in the Philadelphia Inquirer or download the full PDF here

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To Alleviate Financial Burden, Township Consolidation Might Be Key

Courage to Connect NJ, a non-profit organization that advocates the consolidation of some of some of New Jersey’s 566 municipalities, held a public forum at Brunner Elementary School on Wednesday night. Co-founders Gina Genovese and Wendy McCahill spoke of how having multiple townships operate under a single governing body could lead to a more efficient, cohesive state.

The non-partisan organization only visits towns where they are invited. Genovese emphasized that it was not Courage to Connect NJ’s place to tell communities who or what they should merge with, but merely to start the serious conversation on the topic.

“We need to look at ourselves and ask, ‘are we helpless,’” she said. “Is there nothing we can do besides pay more and more in taxes? Most importantly, we need to ask if it’s necessary to have 566 municipal structures.”

The concept of township consolidation is not a new one. Genovese presented a New York Times article about a possible merger of the Oranges dating back to 1895. The city physician of the time stated that, “there’s no other course to be pursued. The Oranges must be made into one city so that all our public departments may be better and more economically managed. It is only selfishness that has kept us apart.”  Coincidentally, 1895 is the same year that Scotch Plains and Fanwood became two separate townships.

“If we don’t look at the state of New Jersey differently and understand that we are all part of this and paying for this, then nothing is going to change,” Genovese said. “If we don’t look at communities and towns differently because we feel we’re going to lose our identity or control, then nothing will change.”

Genovese believes that consolidation of municipalities will help lessen the tax burden on New Jersey residents, as well dramatically decreasing the financial burden on the municipalities themselves. This is especially relevant to residents of Union County, who boast the third highest income property taxes in the country at 8.7 percent. (The first and second spots belong to Essex and Passaic counties.)

Genovese, the former mayor of Long Hill, used her own town as an example of how a single community shouldering the weight of a government would only prove to be a detriment.

“I was Mayor of a town of 9000 people,” she said. “We had 3100 households paying for a single administrative structure. I felt the town should not exist by itself.”

Long Hill attempted to share services with neighboring townships, but the effort further fractured an already fractured system. With shared services, each contract with an individual town is often for a different, singular service that is not shared with any other municipality.

“We’re treating the effects, and not the causes,” she said.

The prime example that Courage to Connect uses to promote consolidation is Woodbridge Township, the state’s oldest town. Woodbridge has a single governing body presiding over 10 distinct communities such as Fords, Avenel, Colonia, and Iselin. The structure has lead to a variety of advantages, including a state of the art television studio, a full time economic development and redevelopment officer, and a full time grant writer, who nets the township up to $12 million a year in grants. Recently, Woodbridge received a grant for nine million dollars in order to install solar panels on schools.


Continue reading this article in the Scotch Plains-Fanwood Patch or download a full PDF here

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Targeting Parsippany superintendent misses the point

The latest target on Gov. Chris Christie’s screen is LeRoy Seitz, the superintendent of the Parsippany-Troy Hills School District, slated to receive $50,000 above the state-mandated $175,000 salary cap. Now the governor is threatening to block approval of the district budget until the school board puts the superintendent’s salary in line.

But compared to what’s going on in western Morris County — in Christie’s back yard — Seitz’s inflated salary is a great bargain.

Maybe the governor should direct his frustration a bit closer to home.

Seitz serves a school district that covers the municipality of Parsippany-Troy Hills, which contains 53,000 residents and educates 7,000 pupils. The district includes two high schools and a dozen middle or elementary schools.

Compare those statistics with Mendham, where Christie resides. It’s actually two municipalities — Mendham Township and Mendham Borough — but good luck trying to tell them apart, even though each has its own school district. In the township, where Christie lives, the schools superintendent earns more than $150,000, despite the fact that the school district only comprises about 900 students. In the borough, the superintendent makes nearly $200,000, with only 700 students. That’s nearly $300 per student.

You’d be surprised to know those numbers don’t even factor in a high school. Years ago, the Mendhams joined with three other municipalities — Chester Borough, Chester Township and Washington Township — to create the West Morris Regional High School District, which has its own set of administrators. There, the district superintendent makes $192,000, while overseeing 2,200 students.

What does this all mean? I can’t talk about the merits of Seitz as a school leader, but it would seem the taxpayers of Parsippany are getting a pretty good deal.

Continue reading this article in The Daily Record, or download a full PDF here

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Should New Jersey’s Towns Consolidate? One Organization Says Yes

Advocates for the consolidation of some of New Jersey’s 566 municipalities visited the Berkeley Heights VFW at 15 Locust Avenue on Wednesday to discuss possible methods for townships to merge together and operate under a single governing body.

Gina Genovese and Wendy McCahill of Courage to Connect New Jersey, which is a grassroots consolidation initiative that is encouraging towns to consolidate, gave a presentation at the VFW that gave some insight as to how consolidation could help alleviate the current perilous financial state of New Jersey.

“Anytime you open up a paper you see the financial struggle our state is in right now,” said McCahill. “We’re all taxpayers, we continually see our bills go up and up, and we’re all like, ‘when is this going to end?’”

Genovese, a former Berkeley Heights resident and current business owner, has served in elected office in various positions, including a stint as the Mayor of Long Hill Township. She encourages anyone willing to listen to consolidation ideas to examine how such ideas could help the individual towns, as well as the state as a whole.

“We’re here to do three things: we’re here to take a look at the State of New Jersey differently – is it essential to have 566 municipal and administrative structures delivering local services?,” said Genovese. “We’re here to look at our towns and communities differently – will consolidation cost us our town identity? Lastly, we need to look at ourselves as voters and tax payers. Are we helpless? Is there nothing we can do about this?”

Genovese believes that by consolidating multiple municipalities to operate under a single governing body, the tax burden on New Jersey residents, as well as the financial burden on the municipalities themselves, will decrease dramatically.

Continue reading this article in the Berkeley Heights Patch, or download a full PDF here

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What New Jersey really needs is a consolidation “tool kit”

On Feb. 17, the state Senate took a big step toward reforming our fragmented system of local government. Let’s hope this is the just the beginning.

For more than a century, state lawmakers have been promoting municipal consolidation as a way to cut waste, reduce inefficiency and lower local property taxes. But none of the policies designed to make consolidation easier ever really worked and, since 1952, only a single pair of towns have merged.

At Courage to Connect New Jersey — the only nonpartisan organization that focuses exclusively on encouraging municipal mergers — we have watched numerous towns try to consolidate, only to see them stumble on unexpected obstacles.

Now, against the backdrop of a financial crisis and Gov. Chris Christie’s new 2 percent property tax cap, things are finally changing. Lawmakers realize that consolidation may well be the only way to prevent some communities from declaring bankruptcy. And so, policymakers are preparing legislation that eliminates some of the remaining barriers to town mergers.

On Feb. 17, the Senate unanimously passed S-2465, which gives voters new power to initiate consolidations even when local elected officials balk. In those cases, the law would allow one town’s governing council to partner with a neighboring town’s voters to create a consolidation “study commission.” Thanks to the tireless advocacy of Senate co-sponsors Robert Gordon and James Beach, as well as Senate President Stephen Sweeney, the bill has sailed through the Legislature.

Continue reading this article in the Asbury Park Press or download a full PDF here

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N.J. needs a consolidation ‘tool kit’

On Feb. 17, the State Senate took a big step toward reforming our fragmented system of local government. Let’s hope this is the just the beginning.

For more than a century, state lawmakers have been promoting municipal consolidation as a way to cut waste, reduce inefficiency and lower local property taxes. But none of the policies designed to make consolidation easier ever really worked and, since 1952, only a single pair of towns have merged.

At Courage to Connect New Jersey — the only nonpartisan organization that focuses exclusively on encouraging municipal mergers — we have watched numerous towns try to consolidate, only to see them stumble on unexpected obstacles.

Now, against the backdrop of a financial crisis and Gov. Chris Christie’s new 2 percent property tax cap, things are finally changing. Lawmakers realize that consolidation may well be the only way to prevent some communities from declaring bankruptcy. And so policymakers are preparing legislation that eliminates some of the remaining barriers to town mergers.

On Feb. 17, the Senate unanimously passed S-2465, which gives voters new power to initiate consolidations even when local elected officials balk. In those cases, the law would allow one town’s governing council to partner with a neighboring town’s voters to create a consolidation “study commission.” Thanks to the tireless advocacy of Senate co-sponsors Robert Gordon and James Beach, as well as Senate President Stephen Sweeney, the bill has sailed through the Legislature.

Continue reading this article in the Daily Record or download a full PDF here

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Advocates for municipal consolidation to hold forums in Union County

UNION COUNTY — A group planting the seeds of public support for local government consolidation is pushing the idea in several Union County towns.

Courage to Connect New Jersey, which advocates grassroots efforts to affect large-scale municipal consolidation, is — once again — holding forums in the western part of the county, where some suburban communities have embraced shared services.

The group will host a forum Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at the VFW Hall in Berkeley Heights, where its executive director, Gina Genovese, owns a business. On March 2, she’ll talk to Scotch Plains and Fanwood residents at 7:30 p.m. at Brunner Elementary School in Scotch Plains.

“We never go into a town unless we’re asked,” said Genovese, the former mayor of Long Hill Township and one-time Democratic candidate for state Senate.

Fred Lange invited Genovese to Scotch Plains, where residents will discuss the possibility of consolidation with Fanwood. Lange heard her speak last year and has since become active with the group. Consolidation, he said, is long overdue, especially in his community where a joint school system has operated for years.

“What we’re trying to do is combine the rest of town,” he said. “It’s just not cost effective for us to be separate.”

But Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr, a Democrat in her second term, believes consolidation is far from being an immediate answer to the financial struggles of New Jersey’s communities.

“We’ve been pretty consistent locally where we believe the route to go now, where we believe we can achieve savings more immediately, is shared services,” Mahr said, noting a shared police dispatch system has saved her borough about $250,000 over three years.

Scotch Plains has 23,510 residents, and Fanwood has 7,318, according to the 2010 Census. A merged municipality would have far fewer residents than the type of regional townships Courage to Connect is pushing.

Genovese said she believes larger towns are stronger and cheaper to run. She’d like to see New Jersey’s 566 municipalities reduced to 100 to 125, and she points to Woodbridge — which has 10 distinct sections of town, and nearly 100,000 residents — as an example of what could be done elsewhere.

“We have to make sure that at the end of the day we’re left with a strong town,” she said.

Continue reading this article in The Star-Ledger, or download the full PDF here.

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Save the Date! Symposium on Municipal Consolidation

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Courage to Connect NJ Research Director pens leading op-ed in today’s Star-Ledger

Courage to Connect NJ Research Director Andrew Bruck

For years, New Jersey’s towns have been struggling to stay afloat, and they’re about to get hit with a tidal wave. The real question is whether the state Legislature will throw them a lifeline.

Local officials are starting to prepare their annual budgets — the first since Gov. Chris Christie imposed his 2 percent property tax cap — and it’s clear that dramatic changes are near. Some communities will find the only way to avoid bankruptcy is to eliminate their local administration and merge with neighboring towns.

It is well-documented that the Garden State has too much local government. With 566 municipalities crammed between the Hudson and the Delaware, New Jersey has more towns than California and more towns per capita than any other state in the country. This fractured system leads to redundancy, waste and — ultimately — sky-high property taxes.

For more than a century, state lawmakers have been talking about ways to encourage municipal consolidation. Yet since 1952, just one pair of towns has merged.

At Courage to Connect New Jersey, a nonpartisan organization that focuses on encouraging municipal mergers, we have watched numerous towns try to consolidate, only to see them stumble on unexpected roadblocks.

With the state on the brink of bankruptcy, the Legislature must pass a “consolidation toolkit” to make it easier for towns to join together.

Continue reading this article in The Star-Ledger or download the full PDF here

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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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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: