- Category: Volume 85 (Fall 2013 - Spring 2014)
- Published: 09 April 2014
- Written by BRANDON JOHNSON CONTRIBUTING WRITER
New Jersey’s municipalities are facing pressure to consolidate as the state legislature seeks to rekindle the argument in favor of town mergers. In November 2011, the Township of Princeton and the Borough of Princeton headlined the movement towards NJ town mergers by joining to create Princeton Township.
According to the New Jersey State Legislature, New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney proposed a measure that would promote “the more effective operation of local government and the sharing of services among local units.”
The NJ Legislation, however, is not the only body advocating for town mergers. Courage to Connect NJ, a non-profit organization is also promoting the combination of municipalities through its website which details a six step process for town consolidation.
The legislation seeks to encourage town mergers largely as a response to New Jersey’s near-legendary property taxes. After the Princeton Township merger the average resident, according to the Courier Post, saw a reduction in property taxes of approximately $126/year. Additionally, the Princeton merger, which was officially implemented in 2013, projects municipal expenditure savings of three-million dollars per year over a three year implementation period.
Mergers though have been met with significant backlash from residents of New Jersey’s 565 municipalities.
Dr. Joseph Patten, Chair of the Political Science and Sociology Department noted that, “New Jersey suffers from ‘Multiple Municipal Madness,’ a phrase coined by Alan Karcher in his book by the same title.
Patten continued, “New Jersey has always been resistant to consolidation. People like their towns, they like their little villages.”
Dr. Peter Reinhart, Director of the Kislak Real Estate Institute added, “Much of the resistance to consolidation comes in the area of education. People are very protective of their schools and the reputation of their school systems. Much of the value of people’s homes is due to the reputation of the school system.”
Reinhart continued, “For example, a home in Rumson which has an excellent school reputation would be valued higher than the same home in Keansburg which does not have the same excellent school reputation. So, anything that might negatively impact the school system reputation will be opposed.”
As an alternative to municipal consolidation, some towns seek to implement shared services as a cost saving mechanism. Sharing services entails municipalities unifying their resources, including fire departments, waste management, and school districts.
Daniel Roman, a junior political science major asserted that shared services could play a major role in managing municipal budgets. “[Towns] must be very careful however to make sure response times from firefighters, or EMS do not go down.”
Patten added that sharing services between municipalities does not necessarily correlate with a loss in service quality. Local stations could still exist, albeit under the umbrella of a larger, unitary municipality.
While talks of sharing services may still seem relegated to the abstract, consolidation is reaching closer to home. According to Politickernj, the municipalities of Loch Arbour and Allenhurst in Monmouth County plan to propose a question on this year’s ballot regarding voter support of a merger. Loch Arbour is minutes away from the University, thus spurring the question of whether consolidation talks will impact West Long Branch.
Reinhart said, “I don’t believe there is any serious discussion about merging West Long Branch with Long Branch and I do not see that as happening anytime soon.”
Reinhart continued, “On the other hand, small towns like Sea Bright who experienced and continue to experience devastating impacts to their towns and their tax ratables from Superstorm Sandy should seriously consider merging with another town.”