By Gina Genovese The restructuring of the 566 municipalities in New Jersey has been discussed for more than 40 years. Residents were told the way to save property taxes was to merge two adjoining towns.
After considerable research, I’m convinced that plan will not work. To achieve true economies of scale, our lawmakers and the community at-large must consider merging between five and 10 towns instead of two. Last November, the Sussex and Wantage voters were correct in voting down the merger of their two towns. This merger would have created a town of 12,000 residents. The savings were not significant enough to justify the transition to one, streamlined government.Today, Chester Borough and Chester Township are again considering merging. If they were to merge, they would create a town with a population under 9,000. There are no economies of scale for a merged town of this size. I speak from experience; I was the mayor of Long Hill Township with 9,000 residents. I know first-hand the enormous burden carried by 3,300 households to support a municipal structure. The first merger in New Jersey has to show the people the economies of scale. We need to move towards five to 10 towns merging into one municipal structure, with a total combined population of between 30,000 and 100,000 residents. This larger tax base will provide significant cost savings, greater efficiency and less redundant government. With fewer municipalities, limited state aid can have a greater impact on the local tax burden. The people of New Jersey need to be informed of their role in restructuring our state. I have founded Courage To Connect New Jersey to do just that. It is a non-profit, grassroots organization that uses educational videos and engaging presentations to involve the public. We directly address the loss of town identity and the fear of loss of control, while focusing the debate among the people, not elected officials. There is a myth that towns cannot survive without their own localized government. Many may be surprised to learn that there are more than 300 towns in New Jersey with identifiable names, zip codes, fire departments. These towns have a strong heritage and identity, yet are not tied to a government. For example, Iselin is world renowned for its Asian Indian community, but its central government, Woodbridge Township, is not. I go to Ocean Grove in the summer, not to Neptune Township, which provides all the municipal services, including police. Even gubernatorial candidate Chris Daggett said he was a proud resident of Basking Ridge — not Bernards Township, which collects his property taxes. These communities show that our strength and our identity come from the people, not from local government. To begin restructuring our state, we only need five to 10 towns with the courage to connect. I believe, when residents can vote for significant property tax savings with no loss of community or name, the first merger will succeed. New Jersey can no longer afford to wait. Help make it happen. Join us at www.couragetoconnectnj.org.