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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

Township Residents Hear Pro-Consolidation Group

WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP — The township came one step closer to consolidating with the Chesters and Mendhams into one 38,000-resident, 100-square-mile town.

A dozen Washington Township residents, including Mayor Ken Short, attended a June 1 presentation by Courage to Connect NJ at the public library in Long Valley. The nonprofit, which addressed Mendham Borough residents last month, was invited to the township. Across the state it is gaining traction in urging municipalities to connect five to 10 at a time.

The group says consolidation efforts — which can be started by residents using a petition process under a new state law — are the only way left to reduce property taxes once and for all.

In a state with 566 municipalities, 28 of which have at least 50,000 residents, consolidating is a rational solution, according to Courage to Connect NJ. Even very small towns in the state are supporting their own municipal structures.

This article was originally published in the Daily Record.

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Courage to Connect NJ Featured in Long Valley Patch’s Week in Review

Courage to Connect NJ, an pro-municipal consolidation group, held a forum at the Washington Township Library on Wednesday and explained the benefits of multiple towns coming together to form one municipality. The 45-minute presentation was followed by a question and answer session with the audience.

Continue reading the full article in the Long Valley Patch

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Organization Champions Consolidation in Washington Twp.

New Jersey’s government–and economy–won’t be sustainable in 2020, and a change in the state’s municipal structure needs to begin now or bankruptcy is inevitable, according to Courage to Connect NJ, an organization championing municipal consolidation for the purpose of cost-savings.

Led by former Long Hill Township Mayor Gina Genovese and Wendy McCahill, the group, launched in January of 2010, gave a 45-minute presentation at the Washington Township Library on Tuesday night to a svelte, but deeply-interested crowd, followed by a 45-minute question and answer session.

The duo introduced the group’s purpose and explained the three focal points of their presentation: the need to look at New Jersey differently; the need to look at towns and individual communities differently; and what exactly is the role of the tax payer in the consolidation process.

New Jersey has the greatest number of municipalities–566–per square mile in the United States. McCahill stood next to a table with three towers that consisted of 566 placards, each one stating a municipality’s name and population. McCahill then proceeded to take each card off the stack and stand it up to face the audience while Genovese went through the presentation.

Genovese explained all the different avenues New Jersey has attempted to traverse in order to boost revenue, from the implementation of income tax in the 1970s, to allowing gambling in Atlantic City and the stoppage of funding the pension systems.

“And now we have the 2-percent cap,” Genovese said. “My heart truly goes out to elected officials having to deal with this. In the long run, this will weaken a town. It’s extremely hard to deliver quality services and not raise taxes.”

This article originally appeared in the Long Valley Patch

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State must aid local consolidation studies

This opinion editorial by Courage to Connect NJ Research Director Andrew Bruck originally appeared in the Courier Post. To download a full PDF, click here.

Forty years of school finance litigation — and we still can’t agree what it means to provide a “thorough and efficient” system of public education.

The latest Abbott v. Burke ruling didn’t distinguish between the two parts of New Jersey’s most famous constitutional phrase, but it seems unlikely we’ll ever get to thoroughness without efficiency. In the real world if not in the courts, there’s no separating the two, and it’s time for the Legislature to give both their due.

The system for funding and operating our public schools is hopelessly wasteful: a fractured, Byzantine system that allows good money to be wasted on redundant programs and unnecessary bureaucracies. The problem lies with New Jersey’s overabundance of local government. With 566 municipalities and 616 school districts, we simply have too many administrative entities trying to do the same thing. New Jersey taxpayers elect mayors to govern towns with fewer than 25 residents and pay superintendants to oversee districts with fewer than 50 students.

The waste is remarkable. Consider Mendham, home of Gov. Chris Christie. It’s a single community, but the town is split into two local governments: Mendham Borough and Mendham Township. Each municipality has its own K-8 school district, each with fewer than 1,000 enrolled students and each with a superintendant making more than $150,000 per year.

The two municipalities are also part of the West Morris Regional High School District, which includes Chester Township, Chester Borough and Washington Township. The regional district pays its superintendant $192,000 per year to watch over the five towns’ high school kids.

It’s an elaborate — and expensive — mess. It’s no surprise that, at a spring 2009 town hall meeting, Christie called the divide between the two Mendhams “crazy.”

There’s a better way. Representatives from the Mendhams, the Chesters and Washington Township are discussing several cost-saving measures, including a consolidation of the various school districts and, more boldly, a consolidation of the five municipalities. A recent study commissioned by Courage to Connect NJ, the only statewide nonpartisan, nonprofit organization devoted to consolidation and shared services, found that multi-town municipal consolidations could lower property taxes by up to 40 percent in some cases.

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Courage to Connect NJ featured in The Nonprofit Quarterly

In New Jersey there are 566 towns. California, by comparison, has only 482 municipalities. An organization called Courage to Connect N.J. believes that the situation is unsustainable in light of the growing financial straits of local governments.

They say too many local governments, and the costs associated with them, drive up property taxes. In response, the group has sent staff out across the state to try to convince clusters of five to ten towns to merge their services and, potentially, their towns.

Currently, Connect N.J. are working with a grouping that includes two Mendhams, two Chesters, and a Washington Township. Sounds like a relatively good hand. If they were to merge, their population would total 38,870. Says Ken Short, Mayor of Washington Township, “I’d be very much open to discussions . . . If we can save the taxpayers money through consolidation, I would be happy to step down from my elected position and work to make it happen to save people money.”

NPQ has often written that nonprofits can be even more active and powerful on issues of taxation and the economy. This is an interesting, innovative and ambitious project and will be worth watching.

This article originally appeared in The Nonprofit Quarterly.

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Courage to Connect featured on CBS New York

NEW JERSEY (WCBS 880) – A grassroots movement calling for municipal consolidations, is growing in New Jersey.

With a two percent tax cap in place, budgets are tight all across the Garden State. Positions are being cut in schools, police departments and public works.

State senator Robert Gordon says consolidation of some of New Jersey’s 566 municipalities is inevitable.

“I think New Jersey is headed for a financial meltdown,” said Gordon. “You can only cut so far. At some point, you really have to look at how you’re organized.”

Historically, towns have been reluctant to surrender home-rule, but a new law makes it easier for individual citizens to initiate the consolidation process.

Leading the consolidation charge is a grassroots effort. Gina Genovese founded Courage to Connect New Jersey, a non-profit, non-partisan group that helps citizens get the consolidation process started.

“Frankly, there might be some towns that the mayor and council don’t want to give up power. So you have to have an opportunity for the citizens to be able to do it in connection with other towns where their mayors and councils get it,” said Genovese.

She says consolidation is on the table in the Cherry Hill area and in Fairwood and Scotch Plains.

Check out the original report from CBS New York

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Courage to Connect NJ featured in The Daily Record article, “5 towns talk of combining for savings”

Photo by: Bob Karp/The Daily Record

MENDHAM — Forces are converging to unite both Mendhams, both Chesters and Washington Township under one municipal government and one school system.

It is a plan Gina Genovese, co-founder of Courage to Connect NJ, encouraged Wednesday at a Mendham Borough Library forum that drew two dozen homeowners.

The nonprofit, which has given some 30 presentations statewide since it formed last year, is pushing the idea that true savings occur when five to 10 municipalities connect by sharing a government and keeping their individual identities as neighborhoods.

A band of 15 residents from the Chesters and Mendhams, now emerging publicly as the Mendham Chester Alliance, said at the forum that they have calculated that uniting their four municipalities under one government and one school system would save $32 million a year.

“If you adjust the tax formula and make it the same for each town, that’s about a 30 percent savings on everybody’s taxes,” said Bruce Flitcroft of Mendham Township, the chief executive officer of Alliant Technologies and an alliance member. “That’s huge. How do you argue with it?”

The alliance website, www.mendhamchester.org, is unfinished, but is gaining subscribers nonetheless.

Genovese is a tennis club owner whose experience as former mayor of Long Hill convinced her to co-found Courage to Connect NJ last year with Wendy McCahill.

Their argument: The costs of maintaining too many local governments have been driving up property taxes for too long. Further, all efforts to offset property taxes have failed or are failing — the 1976 income tax, Atlantic City gambling, municipal spending caps, dwindling rebates and not funding pensions.

“Five hundred sixty-six New Jersey towns in 2020 is not sustainable,” she said. “We’re on the Titanic.”

Continue reading this article in The Daily Record.

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New law eases municipal consolidation

This article originally appeared in the Courier Post

Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation Wednesday that will ease municipal consolidation, opening the door for further study of a Cherry Hill-Merchantville merger.

The law allows the towns to seek state approval to begin the merger process through voter petition; an application by the local governing body; or a combination of the two, its sponsors said.

The previous law required each municipality to use the same method when seeking approval to form a Consolidation Study Commission.

Reaction from Merchantville and Cherry Hill leaders about the bill — and the continued possibility of a merger — was mixed Wednesday.

“The governor has signed into law a provision that puts these kinds of decisions back into the hands of the people,” Cherry Hill Mayor Bernie Platt said.

“This was a reasonable and rational change to a law that was inflexible and in certain circumstances did not follow the will of the people.”

Said township spokesman Dan Keashen: “We’re all in (for a possible merger.) The mayor is ready to go and has said he is more than willing to study the issue and move forward with a productive group.

“If they (Merchantville) want to come and talk, we’re ready.”

“My feeling is, basically, that the general public elects the officials,” said Merchantville Mayor Frank North. “And those officials should be the ones to make such decisions.

“For a handful of residents to bypass the governing body is wrong.”

North said he had no preference as to whether the merger study is conducted or not.

“You can’t have a group trying to do a study without knowing all of the ramifications of working with the government of another town,” he said.

“If we can get a good, educated study of how the (two) governing bodies work, what the debts will be, the costs for public safety and service, as well as the negatives and the benefits to each town, then they (the residents) vote.

“If they vote to merge, so be it. If they vote not to, so be it.”

One of the residents “bypassing the governing body” North spoke of is Bob Stocker, a member of the Merchantville citizens’ group that originally proposed the merger study.

Stocker admitted Wednesday the process in Merchantville has been contentious.

“Since council rescinded our resolution, we have asked them for recommendations for new committee members,” he said. “We’ve asked Mayor North to recommend people.

“Now we believe we have a slate of committee members that reaches a compromise for all. We’re going to resubmit our application (for the study to be done) shortly, and we hope council will support us.”

Assembly Democrats Pamela Lampitt, Louis D. Greenwald, Connie Wagner and Valerie Vainieri Huttle drafted the new law in direct response to the state Department of Community Affairs’ invalidation of a consolidation study proposal.

DCA ruled the two towns submitted a hybrid application.

“I believe there are too many roadblocks in place for consolidation,” Lampitt said last month after the Assembly passed the measure.

“It’s unfortunate that we had to legislate common sense like this,” Lampitt said Wednesday.

“But at least this law will make mergers and efforts to control property taxes easier.”

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Doughnut hole municipalities: Can they help set the tone for wholesale town mergers?

As the volume of New Jersey’s consolidation chorus continues to grow louder — encouraged by Gov. Chris Christie and others who say reducing government is the surest path to reducing property taxes — the state’s nearly two dozen “doughnut hole” towns find themselves easy targets.

These municipalities, called “doughnut holes” because one town completely surrounds another, appear to many to be the most likely to merge.

Often, these towns already share many services: a school district, a library and, in places like Chester (Morris County) and Princeton (Mercer County), they even share a name. But in the spirit of home rule, many of their biggest expenses — police and fire departments, public works and town halls — remain separate.

On a map, the doughnut hole towns would seem to be the likeliest candidates to consolidate and merge: One town simply absorbs the other and, voila, two municipalities become one.

There are more than 20 of them statewide, including Freehold and Freehold Township in Monmouth County, Metuchen and Edison in Middlesex County, Lakehurst and Manchester in Ocean County.

But the doughnut mergers haven’t happened and, for a variety of reasons, are unlikely to happen soon. And there are questions about whether — in talks about the value of small government and municipal consolidation — the doughnut towns matter at all.

Assemblyman Reed Guscoria, D-Mercer, grew up in one doughnut (Hopewell and Hopewell Township) and lives in another (Princeton and Princeton Township). He believes towns like those can be used to demonstrate the benefits of merging entire municipalities.

Guscoria has sponsored a bill in each of the past two legislative sessions that would force the doughnut towns to merge within 10 years. His current bill (A1904) was introduced in February 2010 and has not moved out of committee. Its predecessor in the previous session fared no better.

He believes his colleagues in the Legislature are unwilling to force the hands of local officials in their districts to consolidate themselves out of jobs. But Guscoria thinks the doughnut towns are the perfect place to start.

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

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Courage to Change

The problems associated with NJ’s municipalities replicating services can be compared to the concept of redundancy in the private sector.

Corporate elimination of redundancy, initiated in the 1980s, is now generally accepted as the preferred method for turning around declining organizations, cutting costs, and improving performance.

Courage to ConnectNJ, a non-profit organization seeking to reduce the replication of services in NJ, announced their opening of a Bergen County chapter during a forum held at Bergen Community College.

With a goal to energize, enlighten and engage citizens in the effort to eliminate redundancy throughout Bergen County, Courage to ConnectNJ enlisted a panel of experts and civic leaders to lead a discussion on the future of municipal governance in Bergen County. Gina Genovese, the executive director, moderated the forum and began with a summary of NJ’s ranking as the state with the highest tax burden; detailing how the replication of services offered by NJ’s 566 municipalities is a major factor.

The only recent municipal consolidation in New Jersey took place in 1952, so one of the organization’s goals is to encourage additional studies to examine if cost savings can be realized in today’s economic environment. In place of a working model, the forum offered Woodbridge, NJ as an example of a township that can embrace diverse neighborhoods and populations into one municipality.  (Woodbridge is identified, for census and practical purposes, as 10 unincorporated areas – townships that never fractured into incorporated municipalities.)

Two of the main speakers hailed from Woodbridge,  Mayor John McCormac and School Superintendent John Crowe. McCormac spoke to the savings realized by all the residents operating under one entity, and the ability to maintain distinct neighborhoods with respect to fire departments, libraries, VFWs, and other characteristics often associated with the face of a community. He emphasized that had the townships fractured, there would be a replication of 9 other governments with the associated services. This would have led to higher taxes, and the inability of Woodbridge to offer additional services and facilities that smaller towns do not have resources to provide.

Continue reading this article in the Wyckoff Journal or click here to download the full PDF

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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: