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"There is a better, more intelligent, and less expensive way to provide local services, and we have it in our collective power to bring about changes for the better."

Alan J. Karcher,
Multiple Municipal Madness

Consolidation effort draws small but ardent crowd

PARK RIDGE — A presentation by municipal consolidation advocates attracted a small group of local residents, councilmen and activists on Wednesday night.

The group, Courage to Connect NJ, urged residents to think boldly about consolidating towns, suggesting at one point the elimination of seven or eight municipalities in northern Bergen County to create a larger one, the Pascack Valley.

“A lot of people are saying that what we currently do is unsustainable,” said Gina Genovese, the group’s director and a former Park Ridge mayor. “I didn’t talk about whether there was a Republican administration or a Democratic administration. That has nothing to do with it.”

They argue that by combining police and public service departments, and by merging town government, redundancies will be reduced and taxpayers will pay meaningfully less in property taxes.

Local reaction to the idea was mixed, with some residents expressing fear that local identity will be diminished. Few expect much to happen in the near future, though Genovese said that an “iceberg” was approaching.

“There’s a fear of the unknown with this, and that’s what drives a lot of it,” said Steven Hopper, Park Ridge councilman. “It’s about saving money and being sustainable, but it’s also about better services.”

Continue reading this article on North Jersey.com

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EDITORIAL Push New Jersey towns to find way to merge

Municipal consolidation may be gaining momentum.

Consider some recent events:

The two Princetons have formed a commission to investigate consolidation, the first time the towns will formally sit down and discuss the issue since 1996.

Hightstown and East Windsor have entered discussions to determine if a township police takeover could save the borough money.

State Senate legislation that would merge the tiny borough of Teterboro into four adjacent towns — South Hackensack, Little Ferry, Moonachie and Hasbrouck Heights — has won committee approval and awaits a vote of the full Senate.    Several hundred residents of the small Camden County borough of Merchantville signed a petition asking borough officials to begin researching a possible merger with neighboring Cherry Hill Township.

And former Gov. Thomas Kean, speaking at a Bergen County forum last month, endorsed consolidation of New Jersey towns to make local government more efficient.

”To consolidate services to really lower property taxes — I think the time has come,” he told the forum, according to The Record of Hackensack.

All of this comes on the heels of an October poll from Quinnipiac University that showed overwhelming support for municipal and school district consolidations.

And yet, consolidation remains off the table in Trenton, aside from legislation introduced by Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, D-Mercer, that would force the merger of the half dozen towns on Long Beach Island into one town and consolidate all doughnut-and-hole towns — such as the Princetons, Hightstown and East Windsor and Jamesburg and Monroe.

Click here to read the full editorial on Centraljersey.com

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Residents Break New Ground in Attempt to Merge With Cherry Hill

Residents belonging to a grassroots group in Merchantville are believed to be the first to use a state law that allows people to petition for a merger with a neighboring municipality without the approval of their own elected officials. For all the talk of consolidating services in tough budget times, consolidation rarely happens in New Jersey. The Merchantville group may show merger-hungry residents in other municipalities that at least getting the process started can be done without great difficulty.

The group “Merchantville Connecting for the Future” needed only 127 signatures to affect its petition. Under the state law petitioners need at least ten percent of all votes cast by municipal residents in the most recent General Assembly election. The Merchantville group got more than 300 signatures. Meantime in neighboring Cherry Hill, elected officials voted in favor of studying consolidation.

Courage to Connect

“Cherry Hill mayor and council voted on a resolution and the people of Merchantville petitioned to have a study done,” said Gina Genovese, executive director of Courage to Connect NJ, a group that advocates consolidation of municipal services. “So it is a wonderful blend of the legislation which says local governments can participate and local citizens can participate.”

Read the full article on NJ 101.5

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Proposed merger of Cherry Hill, borough may spark movement to reduce N.J. municipalities

CHERRY HILL — It’s been said God made the country and man made the town.

In New Jersey, man may have overdone it: There are 566 municipalities in a state that is fifth smallest in square mileage.

But one citizen’s group from the tiny borough of Merchantville has taken it upon itself to merge its municipal operations with Cherry Hill — using a little-known state law that doesn’t require the permission or blessing of a town’s political leaders to initiate such action.

Some feel this could be the catalyst of a movement to reduce the number of New Jersey towns and fiscal redundancies.

“If there are successes and people see they have the power to do this, they can exercise that power,” said Gina Genovese, executive director of Courage to Connect New Jersey, a nonprofit, independent group that promotes municipal consolidation. “This has never been done here. It’s exciting.”

The efforts of the community group “Merchantville Connecting for the Future” began early this year. State aid had dropped from $715,691 in fiscal 2009 to $557,946 for fiscal 2011. Residents noted long-term sustainability was a real issue for the Camden County borough, which measures six-tenths of a square mile and has a population of 3,800.

“Our taxes have been going up and we’ve been supplementing our budget by drawing down money from our town surplus,” said Greg La Vardera, a Merchantville resident and member of the 20-person coalition.

La Vardera said residents asked the borough council to consider a merger with Cherry Hill so school systems, municipal departments and other services could be efficiently extended. The initial response was lukewarm, he said.

“And then nothing happened,” La Vardera said.

But then the group became aware of the Uniform Shared Services and Consolidation Act of 2007, which allows everyday citizens and/or elected officials to initiate municipal consolidation. It requires 10 percent of town voters from the last general Assembly election to sign petitions in favor of a merger.

Continue reading this article in the Star-Ledger

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Cherry Hill steps toward merging with Merchantville

Cherry Hill Township Council last night approved a resolution that creates a joint commission with Merchantville to study consolidation of the two towns.

A citizens group in Merchantville prompted the Cherry Hill Council to move toward a merger.

Bob Stocker of  “Merchantville Connecting for the Future” submitted a petition to Cherry Hill’s governing body with more than 300 signatures, and the council subsequently moved the resolution.

“The story is much larger than these two towns,” said Gina Genovese, executive director of Courage to Connect New Jersey, a non-profit,
non-partisan group that encourages mass municipal consolidation. “This has never been done before in New Jersey.

“This is the beginning of a movement in New Jersey in which people and local government work together to build a sustainable future,” she added. “With our state teetering on bankruptcy and municipalities desperate to save money, the artificial boundaries separating our communities are beginning to crumble.”

See the full article in PolitickerNJ

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Merchantville has a proposal for Cherry Hill

This article originally ran in The Philadelphia Inquirer on July 29, 2010

Some liken it to two people dating. There’s a courting period to get to know each other before anyone pops the question.

That may be where officials in Cherry Hill Township and its tiny neighbor, Merchantville Borough, now find themselves.

Several hundred borough residents signed a petition over the spring calling on Merchantville officials to study the pros and cons of a merger.

And this week, organizers were fashioning a more formal petition intended to further prod the town into examining the question.

They say Merchantville is being squeezed by the lack of tax rateables and state aid cuts that will force tough choices. Aid dropped from $715,691 in fiscal 2009 to $557,946 in fiscal 2011.

“I don’t see how the town is sustainable,” said Bob Starker, a borough resident who has helped lead the petition effort.

“We’ve been delaying reality and are now at a tipping point where we might have to increase [property] taxes and reduce services,” he said. “That’s when we circle the drain.”

The borough could bring millions of dollars in additional revenue to Cherry Hill, which could easily and more efficiently extend services to an adjacent community of 3,800 people in sixth-tenths of a square mile, Starker said.

Why bear the expense of separate governments, police departments, and school systems – not to mention a host of other services, ranging from trash pickup and stump-grinding to snow removal and road maintenance – residents are asking.

Merchantville Mayor Frank North and Cherry Hill Mayor Bernie Platt have met to discuss the merger proposal and hope the state will fund the study, expected to cost more than $100,000.

“I’m not against [a merger] or for it,” North said. “I’m here to do whatever is right for Merchantville and our residents.

“This is something that has to be approved by both communities. It’s like going to the prom. If you want someone to go and the other person doesn’t want to go, it’s not going to happen.”

North and Platt both said they needed more information before the communities could decide on tying the knot.

“There is no question in my mind that any time you can eliminate redundancy in municipal services and save taxpayers money, it is the right thing to do,” Platt said. “Any kind of consolidation that is done, whether it is a trash contract or municipalities, needs to be done in a thoughtful manner with a benefit for all parties involved.”

Even approval of a study to look at the merger question “would be a wonderful example to communities across the state,” said Gina Genovese, former mayor of Long Hill Township in Morris County and founder and executive director of Courage to Connect New Jersey, a nonprofit that educates the public about home rule and local government changes.

“You are looking at a much larger town with a huge capacity that could take Merchantville under its wing,” she said. “The last merger was in 1952. . . . Government is like a huge ship, and it doesn’t turn fast. You have to answer the concerns and fears of the people. We’re just starting that conversation.”

Read more: http://www.philly.com/inquirer/local/nj/20100729_Merchantville_has_a_proposal_for_Cherry_Hill.html#ixzz0v5wjsxkj

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MORRIS PEOPLE: Former Long Hill NJ mayor wants towns to ‘connect,’ cut taxes

Gina Genovese is the executive director of Courage to Connect NJ. (Staff photo: Michael Daigle)

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. Information on the effort can be found at www.couragetoconnectnj.org.

Continue reading this article on the dailyrecord.com (The article may have expired, in which case you can read this PDF of the article.)

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Petition: Merge Merchantville, Cherry Hill

Gina Genovese, the founder of Courage to Connect NJ, is quoted in this article about a possible merger between Merchantville and Cherry Hill.

Merchantville residents hold copies of a petition urging the borough and Cherry Hill to consider consolidating the municipalities. They include Loredena Rubini, 18-month-old Sasha Brown and her mother Carrie, Greg Lavardera, Bob Stocker and Natalie Guertler. (JOHN ZIOMEK/Courier-Post)

Merchantville residents have repeatedly tried to send their children to the Cherry Hill school district.

Now they are at it again, this time pushing for consolidation of the two municipalities.
A petition circulated in Merchantville recently urged a study into the possibility of merging Merchantville and Cherry Hill. An online petition was circulated as well.

Bob Stocker and Russell Loue — members of the group behind the petition — and other residents presented it to Merchantville Mayor Frank North and borough council members at a June 14 council meeting. The council unanimously decided to ask a third party to conduct a feasibility study on consolidation.

Talks of a study have taken place in the past, but Loue said the public has not been notified about it. So he, Stocker and other residents decided to do a little investigating.

“I said let’s find out for ourselves,” said Loue, a six-year resident of Merchantville. “We would like to find out if we can save this community through consolidation.

“Through the numbers we see, the town will not survive, so let’s do a real feasibility study with Cherry Hill. Let us see the numbers.”

At the most recent borough council meeting Monday, Mayor North announced he has started the process by meeting with Cherry Hill Mayor Bernie Platt. North said he believes the cost to perform a study will be about $100,000.

“If we can come up with the financing, both Merchantville and Cherry Hill will appoint committees,” North said. “They will draw up an RFP (request for proposal) and submit it to various companies that do this type of study. If everything goes well, someone would be hired to perform the study, and that information would be brought back to committees.”

Cherry Hill’s mayor would be agreeable to examining the issue, his spokesman said.

“The mayor would be more than willing to take a closer look at the situation,” said spokesman Dan Keashen. “He is more then willing to entertain the theory of consolidation.”

Gina Genovese, former mayor of Long Hill, Morris County, and founder of Courage to Connect for New Jersey, said she believes the push for consolidation is a step that needs to be taken. Courage to Connect NJ is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that wants to be a model for connecting communities’ administrative structures, according to its website.

Genovese applauded consolidation efforts by Merchantville residents.

“Merchantville took advantage of the legislation that’s already there,” Genovese said. “For the first time, residents have taken advantage, which gives power to people to do this. That gives people the same power as local officials.”

Continue reading the article on the courierpostonline.com (the article may have expired)

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Gina Genovese Interviewed by Brian Lehrer on NPR, July 8, 2010


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Gov. Chris Christie recently said he can punt a football into Mendham Township from his home in Mendham Borough.

Mendham Township Mayor Richard Krieg says ultimately the Mendhams need to come back together.

While these two leaders come from two different perspectives, they both acknowledge that the current system is expensive and redundant. In this time of enormous economic stress, we need to work toward combining administrations throughout the state’s 566 municipalities.

The Mendhams have talked, studied, or voted to merge their two towns. But the concept has never moved forward, as the studies have shown there always seems to be one winner and one loser. If Mendham Township and Mendham Borough combined, they would still only make up another small town of about 10,000. As the former mayor of Long Hill, a town of about 9,000, I know the cost to run the town was carried by about 3,000 households. That burden is too great.

If only two towns merge, we just don’t get the significant savings and improved services that we’ve been promised.

So let’s broaden our thinking beyond the two town merger. The Mendhams and adjacent Chester Borough and Chester Township currently share a recreation department. Why? Because it is a much more efficient department.

The arrangement provides much better combined services than the four towns could do individually. These towns must expand these savings across the departments that make up the majority of the town budget: police, public works, administrative costs and physical plant operations. Just imagine the savings.

Read more on the dailyrecord.com

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