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Sea Bright panel asked to study merger

appSEA BRIGHT — A panel of residents will research the benefits and costs that Sea Bright could face if the beachside borough consolidated with a neighboring town.

 

The citizens advisory committee has until Dec. 31 to study the issue and come back with a report to the Borough Council.
No other town has been identified as a pair with which Sea Bright could either merge or be absorbed. Residents named to the panel said the main objective is simply to get more information on consolidation.

 

“Unless you start investigating, you don’t know if it makes sense, you don’t know if it’s beneficial,” said Marianne McKenzie Morse, one of four residents who will be on the citizens advisory committee.

 

“Given the economy going forward, it’s the responsible thing for all municipalities.”

 

In addition to McKenzie Morse, the Borough Council named residents Heather Bedenko, Martin Arasin and Jennifer Walsh to the committee. Councilman Marc Leckstein and Borough Administrator Joe Verruni will serve as liaisons.

 

Consolidating Sea Bright with another town is an idea that has been around before superstorm Sandy, but those who support the idea became more vocal about it after the storm as the town began hosting meetings for residents to discuss long-term plans for rebuilding.

 

Sea Bright Mayor Dina Long said in an interview last month that she personally doesn’t favor consolidation and was skeptical if it will end in cost savings based on other reviews of shared service proposals Sea Bright has considered in the past. But she also said she wants residents to have a voice in running their town and said she would keep an open mind about the committee’s findings.

 

Gina Genovese, executive director of Courage to Connect New Jersey, applauded Sea Bright for looking into consolidation. Courage to Connect New Jersey formed to be a resource for citizens and elected officials interested in consolidation.
Click here to continue reading this article in the Asbury Park Press. 

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South Hunterdon County school merger gets Stockton Borough Council’s backing

This article originally appeared in the South Hunterdon Democrat. 

STOCKTON — The proposal to combine four South County school districts into a single district got unanimous endorsement from Borough Council on Sept. 9.

referendum on the measure is to be voted on by residents of Stockton,Lambertville and West Amwell Township in a special election on Sept. 24.

The Sept. 24 special election asks voters to decide two questions: to dissolve the existing South Hunterdon Regional School District, and to consolidate the towns’ three elementary school districts into a new regional school district that would serve children in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.

Stockton Borough Council’s Sept. 9 resolution “encourages voters to consider supporting regionalization by voting ‘Yes’ to both referendum questions…”

Passage of both questions is necessary for regionalization to take place.

The first question, on dissolving the high school district, will pass if a majority of voters in two of the three communities vote “yes.” However, the new all-inclusive district can only be formed if a majority of voters in each of the three communities vote “yes” on the second question.

If either or both questions lack sufficient support to pass, there will be no regionalization and the four districts will continue to operate as they have in the past.

According to James Gallagher, president of the Stockton school board, “Local officials believe that regionalization will provide both educational benefits and financial efficiencies.” There are no plans to close existing schools or build new facilities, Gallagher said in an email.

Sponsored by the school regionalization committee, school officials will speak about regionalization and answer public questions at three Town Hall meetings ahead of the Sept. 24 vote. One is planned for Monday, Sept. 16, at the Phillip L. Pittore Justice Center (the Acme building) in Lambertville. Two are set for Wednesday, Sept. 18; one at the Stockton Fire Hall in Stockton and another at the West Amwell Township Municipal Building. All meetings are to begin at 7 p.m.

At the Stockton Town Hall, former mayor of Princeton Township Chad Goerner, a member of the board of directors of the nonprofit pro-consolidation group Courage to Connect NJ, will speak briefly about last year’s merger of the township and Princeton Borough.

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Regionalizing schools can reshape education

The_Star-Ledger_logo-copyAs New Jersey schools prepare to open, another year of challenges for each and every school board lies ahead.

 

Taxpayer money is tighter than ever; the 2 percent state-mandated spending cap has already forced many schools to eliminate gifted and talented programs, languages, elective classes and extracurricular 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.

 

Next month, the voters of Lambertville, Stockton and West Amwell in Hunterdon County will decide whether they want to dissolve the existing South Hunterdon Regional High School and authorize the creation of a regional pre-K-to-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-to-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.

 

Following the study, all four school boards, the regionalization committee, three local governing bodies, the Hunterdon County freeholders, four school administrators and the state Department of Education unanimously endorsed the dissolution of all four school districts and creation of one new regional school district.

 

Some stakeholders are supporting the elimination of their own jobs or elected positions for the sake of the children and taxpayers. If the South Hunterdon initiative is successful, we will reduce the number of statewide school districts by three. This is a critical first step to controlling public education spending in New Jersey.

 

But most important, New Jersey does not need the state Supreme Court to change the local school-funding formula. When a new regional school district is formed, a new funding formula can also be placed on the ballot.

 

This opinion-editorial article by Courage to Connect NJ Executive Director Gina Genovese originally appeared in The Star-Ledger. Read the full article here

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Government consolidation proponents see South Hunterdon school district merger as bellwether

LAMBERTVILLE — About eight weeks remain before voters here, in Stockton and in West Amwell decide whether the four existing school districts that govern the education of their children are dissolved and replaced by a single district covering pre-K to grade 12.

 

Sept. 24 is the date assigned by the state for the two-question referendum.

 

The vote is six years in the making, according to Gina Genovese, former mayor of Long Hill Township in Morris County and executive director of the advocacy group Courage to Connect NJ/ The group seeks to merge fire districts, school districts and municipal governments.

 

Courage to Connect is the group that helped shepherd last year’s merger of Princeton and Princeton Township.

 

“There’s been an enormous amount of work by the four school boards,” Genovese said today, July 29. The state Department of Education has put “an amazing amount of time to this,” as well, she said. “This has never been done.”

 

“This is a seminal moment in New Jersey.”

 

About 60 people attended the two-hour-long Lambertville town hall meeting, which was led by Dan Seiter, president of the high school board.

 

That’s about how many attended a similar town hall in West Amwell in late June, according to Seiter. A smaller group attended the Stockton town hall, but that meeting lasted nearly three hours, Seiter said, with questions touching a variety of areas such as educational benefits, financial impact and facilities.

 

If the vote fails, Genovese said, it could be six years before the question comes up again elsewhere.

 

“But if it’s a success, it would happen again in three years,” she said.

 

There are 565 municipalities in New Jersey and 599 school districts. Courage to Connect and many politicians think taxpayers would benefit if many of them would merge, as did Princeton and Princeton Township last year.

 

Former Princeton Township Mayor and Courage to Connect board member Chad Goerner told the Lambertville town hall that he was impressed with the work of Seiter’s consolidation committee.

 

“They articulated the benefits of the merger, not just the financials, but also how unifying the curriculum will benefit delivery of education to the region’s students,” Goerner said after the meeting.

But Goerner expressed concern that “the referendum occurs in a kind of obscure time period.”

 

Click here to continue reading this article in the Hunterdon Democrat

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Former Princeton Mayor Discusses Merger on NJTV

Watch Former Princeton Township Mayor Discusses Progress of Merger on PBS. See more from NJToday.

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Consolidation Study Commission Swears In Members

SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD,  NJ – At its first organizational meeting, the Fanwood-Scotch Plains Consolidation Commission dealt with many agenda items, including voting in Matthew Juckes of Fanwood as one of the commissioners, and then swearing in 10 of the commissioners and two of the alternates. One alternate was unable to be present, and there is one alternate position yet to be filled.

 

The commission was established after a submission was made by the citizens’ group called “Courage to Reconnect” led by Fred Lange of Scotch Plains. The five commissioners from Fanwood include: Daniel McCarey, Ann Saltzman, Jack Molenaar, Anthony DiBattista, Matthew Juckes, and the commissioners from Scotch Plains include: Don Parisi, Fred Lange, Phillip Wiener, John Thompson and Sarah Dreikorn. Fanwood alternates are Pat Hoynes and Joseph Nagy and the alternate for Scotch Plains is Bruce Arthur, with one more alternative yet to be appointed by the Scotch Plains Council.

 

Don Parisi (Scotch Plains) and Anthony DiBattista (Fanwood) were elected as chair and vice-chair. The commission is considering the possible position of Secretary and the idea that a volunteer from the community would be greatly appreciated. It is also possible that the position might be a paid position.

 

 Click here to continue reading this article in The Alternative Press

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Christie’s Consolidation Pledge Paying Off

When the non-profit organization Courage to Connect NJ holds its third annual seminar at Princeton University on June 5, Princeton’s successful consolidation will be the focus of the day. And now that the town is assured of the 20 percent reimbursement for consolidation costs that Governor Chris Christie pledged during a visit to Princeton nearly two years ago, the lineup of Princeton officials taking part in the day’s sessions is especially relevant.

 

Mayor Liz Lempert learned last Thursday that the state Department of Community Affairs (DCA) would provide $464,000 to help offset costs of the merger between Princeton Borough and Township, which went into effect the first day of this year. By October, the town should expect $350,000, which is to be used for the 2013 municipal budget. The balance will be forwarded by the end of 2013, after proof is provided that transition expenses were reasonable, necessary, and one-time in nature.

 

“The State is pleased to have provided Princeton with support to make the merger possible,” the letter from DCA to municipal officials stated. It also noted that hundreds of hours of DCA staff were allotted to Princeton to smooth the consolidation process, as well as develop a plan to reassess property in the merged towns.

 

According to Ms. Lempert, budget savings this year that are related to consolidation exceeded the projections of the Consolidation Commission by 40 percent. At its meeting Tuesday, May 28, Princeton Council will be considering an amendment to the budget that will lower the tax rate an additional cent. A public hearing on the budget will also be held that night. But should the amendment pass, the Council won’t vote on the budget until the June 10 meeting, because they are not allowed to amend and vote on the same night.

 

 Click here to continue reading this article

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What Can PA Learn About Municipal Consolidation From New Jersey? An Interview with Gina Genovese

This interview with Executive Director Gina Genovese originally appeared on Keystone Politics

Can you give us a quick description of what Courage to Connect NJ does?

Courage to Connect NJ is a non-partisan, non-profit organization that is a resource for elected officials and citizens to learn about municipal consolidation, the 2007 law, and what is necessary to form a consolidation study commission, and to look at consolidation in their own towns.

 

What have you been working on recently?

Well, we had a lot of elected officials reach out to us around the state, and in some places we’d make some headway, and eventually one town might stop it. We’ve met with citizen groups around the state and had some success – we had the first successful citizen petition to form a consolidation study commission in Scotch Plains and Fanwood. We’re working with citizens in Roxbury and Mt. Arlington. Now since the Princeton Township and Princeton Borough consolidation, we’ve had many more elected officials come forward, and we’re working with them, and I think that you’ll see a lot of progress, as a result of the Princeton success.

 

What types of citizen groups tend to be interested in this issue? 

Well it’s interesting, some citizens will be upset about either taxes, or that they’re losing services and then they start talking, and a group eventually forms, sometimes they ask Courage to Connect NJ to go in and conduct a presentation and we give them an overview of what’s happening in the state, we give them an overview of the options towns have now facing budgets and economic restrictions, and show them they have the power to do something about it. And out of that usually comes the nucleus of 8 or 10 residents that want to work together to make a difference.

 

The municipal consolidation cause had a pretty significant victory with the merger of Princeton Township and Princeton Borough. What has the process been like for them since they voted?

It’s interesting because for the first few years, all I heard around the state of New Jersey is that consolidation is never going to happen, and obviously on November 8, 2011 with the successful vote, that was a major milestone in the state of New Jersey and in the history of consolidation. But what they did in 2012 was really the historic experience that we need to learn from. And that experience is the implementation of consolidation. You have joint governing body meetings, and how two governing bodies work very hard and diligently in one year to ensure that there’s going to be one town at the end of that, and it’s going to be successful.

 

What lessons did your organization learn from that campaign and how have you applied those lessons to your recent work?

That’s one of the reasons why we’re having the seminar on June 5 at Princeton University. We’re going to host a seminar where you’re going to hear from the Mayor, you’re going to hear from the Councilwoman, the administrator, and the firm that actually did the report, and that’s when it becomes real. That’s when people can learn from the experience and hear it from the people that did it. And that’s what we have to do in New Jersey is build on that success. It definitely has changed the consciousness around consolidation in New Jersey because of their efforts to work hard and make it a success.

 

What does the elections process look like? How did they decide what to do about political representation?

One of the processes of the study commission is to figure out what form of government you want, whether you’re able to do wards or at-large, how large you want your governing body to be. And so the Princetons actually got the borough form of government  which is a Mayor and Council and everyone’s at-large. And they had their election this past November to elect the new governing body. And now they have staggered elections so some of them are coming up in a year, some are coming up in two years, and then all the rest will be up in 3 years. They have a whole process on how to do that so it’s a pretty smooth transition.

 

Did incumbents have to run against each other from the two towns? 

Yes, I think a couple of them did. A Councilwoman challenged the Mayor, a challenge from the other party, but basically I think it was a smooth transition. What was funny was at the first reorg meeting they all had to pick out of a hat how long they were going to be elected for, whether it would be one, two or three years. It’s the exact process you would use if you were changing from a township to a borough form of government.

 

The political messaging on this issue can be tricky – what do you think consolidation advocates should avoid doing? Is there anything that advocates do that you think is unhelpful?

Well you know even though I’m an advocate, I do not believe in forced consolidation or making people do it. I think that that’s the wrong approach. When governments talk about a carrot and a stick and trying to force people to do this, I think that that’s absolutely the wrong approach. I think we’re coming to a time when we have to have some innovation in our local governing bodies and how we’re going to deliver services. But I think it’s important for people to educate others that are interested in talking about the subject, and make sure they come along in this process because it might take a while. Just ask questions and talk about let’s all work together to make a better system, both in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

 

What can we look forward to at the Princeton event on June 5?

We’re really trying to grow and build on our successes in New Jersey so when you have a win like we had in Princeton, I think it’s important that other people around the state and the region to come hear from the people that did it and learn the lessons they’ve learned, and share the different ideas about how you could potentially do it better. And also share that maybe some of the fears around consolidation were maybe not as valid as somebody had thought previous to the success of the Princetons. I think this can change the way many look at consolidation.

 

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Princeton merger yields tax decrease

This article originally appeared on Newsworks

 

When the merger of Princeton Borough and Princeton Township was proposed, advocates said it would result in more efficient government and lower tax bills.

 

Now that the merger is complete, those same advocates are touting the town’s first consolidated budget as proof that they were right.

 

Based on the merger, property owners in the newly combined municipality of Princeton will soon do something  few in New Jersey ever experience: Open their mailboxes to find that their municipal tax bills have either gone down or stayed the same.

 

In this case, the municipal tax rate is going down 1.5 percent.

 

Princeton officials say they’ve achieved this decrease by cutting 26 staff positions, which totaled more than $1 million in salaries. They’ve also saved $600,000 by asking city employees to kick in more for their health benefits.

 

Savings in the budget proposal vindicate what merger advocates have been saying all along, according to Kathy Monzo, Princeton’s deputy administrator and director of finance.

 

“The consolidation commission projected that at first, and then the transition task force did the same,” she said. “This is just proving them all right.

 

Despite employee cutbacks, Monzo says the consolidation hasn’t caused a reduction in municipal services.

 

“In the first year, I think the Princetons did extraordinarily well,” said Gina Genovese. As executive director of Courage to Connect, she pushes for New Jersey towns to take advantage of the 2007 law that allows neighboring towns to study the possible effects of consolidation.

 

“I think that the writing’s on the wall,” said Genovese. “Changes have to be made in order for us to offer our services and not have it become more of a burden on our taxpayers.”

 

Another merger?

 

Cherry Hill and Merchantville are two towns that have recently considered merging. But will Princeton’s success now convince them to tie the knot?

 

“No, not at all,” said Cherry Hill spokeswoman Bridget Palmer.

 

Cherry Hill officials balk at the cost of studying and planning a consolidation, Palmer said, adding that the town has saved money through more traditional means of streamlining government.

 

As for Princeton residents, before they start making big plans for the tax windfalls, they should think twice. Taxes for the Princeton school district and Mercer County are still going up.

Listen to the full report below:

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Princeton consolidation pays off: $61M budget comes with tax rate decrease

PRINCETON — The savings that encouraged the former borough and township of Princeton to merge into a single town started to appear last night as the town introduced a $61 million budget and announced a tax rate decrease of just under 1 percent.

 

The budget is the united town’s first and roughly $3 million less than what the 2012 combined budgets were for the former township and borough.

 

Taxpayers will also see a slight decrease in their municipal tax rate. Whereas both towns paid roughly 47 cents per $100 of assessed property value last year, the new rate will be 46.3 cents, thanks to the merger.

 

“We’re paying less money in 2013 … than we were in 2009,” town administrator Bob Bruschi said. “We’re in a pretty strong financial position.”

 

The consolidation of the former borough and township was pitched to Princeton taxpayers as a way to save money, thin staff and maximize services.

 

Click here to continue reading this article in the Times of Trenton

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Chad Goerner interview on NJTV:




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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:

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