CINNAMINSON – Joe Davis lives in Cinnaminson. Some members of his family live in Palmyra. To visit them, Davis drives two miles but passes through three police jurisdictions.
This must be New Jersey. Davis, who works with the state’s Bureau of Recycling as a tonnage grants administrator, was one of the passionate organizers of a meeting at the Cinnaminson Library on Wednesday night introducing Courage to Connect NJ to interested local residents. The organization, founded in 2009 by Gina Genovese, a former mayor of Long Hill in Morris County, is dedicated to raising awareness of New Jersey’s dubious distinction of being the state with the greatest number of municipalities per square mile – and changing it. In a lively presentation that even included some trivia quizzes about the state, Genovese made the argument for streamlining local governments to be more efficient, sustainable and cost-effective. She argued for a future New Jersey with about 100 municipalities instead of the current 566. “I’m a small-business owner and was the mayor of a town of 9,000 people, so I saw firsthand that ours is a failed model and is not sustainable,” said Genovese, whose independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization hopes to encourage a grass-roots groundswell for change. “In every important movement, including civil rights and the women’s movement, change has come from the people,” said Genovese, noting that discussions about consolidating or, in her preferred word, “connecting” the state’s contiguous municipalities in the same county have been going on since the 19th century. Feasibility studies also have a long history. And now, citizens of New Jersey are seeing the state’s extreme economic bind and growing more frustrated. Tom Kopczynski and his wife, Gerri, are among the frustrated. “This is a pretty crazy system and we have to change it,” the township resident said. “I love New Jersey, but our taxes are out of control. We need to eliminate the duplication of services to cut costs.” Rina and John Johnson lamented the extreme duplication of services, too. John Johnson, a retired Lutheran pastor and Mount Holly resident, marveled that in New York City, where the couple had lived, there is one mayor for 8 million people. “In New Jersey,” he said, “the overlapping is utterly ridiculous and extremely costly.” Several in the audience were particularly eager to see a merger of Cinnaminson, Palmyra and Riverton. The key issue, it was noted, is the notion of each municipality losing its identity. Yet according to Genovese, each town in these connections would continue to maintain its own name. “It becomes an emotional issue but not a logical one,” she said. Genovese also pointed out that “ordinary citizens” can initiate referendums, and that according to a recent Rutgers University poll, 60 percent of the state’s residents expressed acceptance of the concept of consolidation. Ideally, these connections would involve 50,000 to 100,000 residents to achieve economies of scale and real savings in operating expenses. The speaker also indicated that raising consciousness is still an issue, and that her organization is willing to travel the state to address interested audiences. “It may take two or three years to reach our goal of significant public support, but the stakes are extremely high. The Internet is a powerful tool and we’ll be using it,” Genovese said. “But it’s definitely time to start the discussion.”