Courage to Connect NJ, a non-profit organization that advocates the consolidation of some of some of New Jersey’s 566 municipalities, held a public forum at Brunner Elementary School on Wednesday night. Co-founders Gina Genovese and Wendy McCahill spoke of how having multiple townships operate under a single governing body could lead to a more efficient, cohesive state.
The non-partisan organization only visits towns where they are invited. Genovese emphasized that it was not Courage to Connect NJ’s place to tell communities who or what they should merge with, but merely to start the serious conversation on the topic.
“We need to look at ourselves and ask, ‘are we helpless,’” she said. “Is there nothing we can do besides pay more and more in taxes? Most importantly, we need to ask if it’s necessary to have 566 municipal structures.”
The concept of township consolidation is not a new one. Genovese presented a New York Times article about a possible merger of the Oranges dating back to 1895. The city physician of the time stated that, “there’s no other course to be pursued. The Oranges must be made into one city so that all our public departments may be better and more economically managed. It is only selfishness that has kept us apart.” Coincidentally, 1895 is the same year that Scotch Plains and Fanwood became two separate townships.
“If we don’t look at the state of New Jersey differently and understand that we are all part of this and paying for this, then nothing is going to change,” Genovese said. “If we don’t look at communities and towns differently because we feel we’re going to lose our identity or control, then nothing will change.”
Genovese believes that consolidation of municipalities will help lessen the tax burden on New Jersey residents, as well dramatically decreasing the financial burden on the municipalities themselves. This is especially relevant to residents of Union County, who boast the third highest income property taxes in the country at 8.7 percent. (The first and second spots belong to Essex and Passaic counties.)
Genovese, the former mayor of Long Hill, used her own town as an example of how a single community shouldering the weight of a government would only prove to be a detriment.
“I was Mayor of a town of 9000 people,” she said. “We had 3100 households paying for a single administrative structure. I felt the town should not exist by itself.”
Long Hill attempted to share services with neighboring townships, but the effort further fractured an already fractured system. With shared services, each contract with an individual town is often for a different, singular service that is not shared with any other municipality.
“We’re treating the effects, and not the causes,” she said.
The prime example that Courage to Connect uses to promote consolidation is Woodbridge Township, the state’s oldest town. Woodbridge has a single governing body presiding over 10 distinct communities such as Fords, Avenel, Colonia, and Iselin. The structure has lead to a variety of advantages, including a state of the art television studio, a full time economic development and redevelopment officer, and a full time grant writer, who nets the township up to $12 million a year in grants. Recently, Woodbridge received a grant for nine million dollars in order to install solar panels on schools.
Continue reading this article in the Scotch Plains-Fanwood Patch or download a full PDF here.