The seemingly obvious idea that New Jersey’s many municipal governments could join together to save tax money has been thwarting anyone who tried it for more than a century.
Only since November’s historic referendum in favor of consolidation are the Princetons proving that consolidation might just have a chance. Observers all over the state are watching to see how the Princeton consolidation experiment goes. Gina Genovese, director of Courage to Connect NJ, has proof that the idea to join towns together goes way back. She likes to show people an enlarged New York Times article from 1895 suggesting that the Oranges merge to form one local government. “The Oranges must be made one city so that all our public departments may be better and more economically managed. It is only selfishness that keeps us apart,” the article reads. In 2007, the state legislature streamlined the process of consolidation to encourage municipalities to do it. So far, Princeton Township and Borough have been the only municipalities to join together under the new law, after many failed consolidation votes since the 1950s. Courage to Connect is a nonprofit group that promotes consolidation and provides resources to help citizens and government officials navigate the treacherous waters of consolidation. The process is a complicated one that requires public votes, coordination with dozens of government agencies, negotiations with public employee unions and more. It’s all the more complicated, Genovese said, because no one had ever done it before. Genovese said the Princetons are truly blazing a trail with the never-before-tried process, and that leaders in other cities are watching and waiting to see if they will follow suit. “For years, people would say if the Princetons can’t consolidate, no one else can, because they tried so often,” she said. “The naysayers would say it’s never happened in New Jersey. Princeton took that away from them and that’s very powerful. Also, now they’re paving the way because they’re doing implementation. Every step they take now is forging a new path for New Jersey.”