A sensible proposal to merge Cherry Hill with little Merchantville is going the way of most such proposals: nowhere. Cherry Hill Mayor Chuck Cahn told The Inquirer’s Kevin Riordan last week that no one could see the advantage of consolidation “from a Cherry Hill perspective” – which is a huge part of the problem.
The two towns’ officials are so tragically attached to their particular perspectives that they couldn’t even agree on how to pay for a consolidation study. Cahn’s counterpart, Merchantville Mayor Frank North, said “shared services are the thing to do” – a frequent refrain of municipal officials warding off consolidation attempts. As it happens, though, the very same towns, along with the rest of Camden County, are currently implicated in a dramatic plan to share services in the form of a countywide police force. And they have greeted it with every bit of the recalcitrance they bring to any discussion of consolidation. In fact, the proposed regional police force now looks less like a plan to share services than an effort to reconstruct the Camden city police from the ground up, with no other municipalities participating. The suburbs no doubt have legitimate concerns. But the trouble is that resistance is their knee-jerk position, as well as that of virtually every New Jersey municipality confronted with the prospect of consolidation or service-sharing. This resistance persists even as the unaffordable extravagance of the state’s teeming local governments, school districts, and other entities becomes more painfully clear. And it persists even as the inequalities among minutely drawn municipalities become more glaring and impossible to fix – of which Camden’s intractable concentration of crime and poverty is the most urgent consequence. It ultimately comes down to that old Cherry Hill perspective. Most mayors and other local officials simply won’t act against their own interest in preserving maximum power. Until New Jersey changes the nature of their interests – by further restricting taxing authority and subsidies for excessive local government, for example – their provincial perspectives will prevail.